33. MPs Greed & Citizen Apathy: Quite Typical!

Kap Kirwok

11th May 2013

It is going, going, gone… Well, almost.

I am talking about the resistance against blackmail by their Excellencies, their Highnesses (or is it their altitudes), Most Honourable Members of the 11th Parliament of the Republic of Kenya. Pitted against grit by civil society, and lately the Church, it appears greed is winning. The clamour seems to be drowning out the protests. Quite typical!

Kenyans have a reputation in East Africa as the most assertive, most aggressive and most confident. And yet this exterior self-assuredness hides a cowering interior. As a driver, you encounter it all the time in our roads. Who has not felt dirty, abused and violated by the crude habits of a few rogue drivers? And yet how often do you hear of retaliatory road rage? Or, as a passenger in a public transport vehicle, how many times do you and fellow passengers get terrorised by a driver and his tout? We are modern-day stoics: unflinching in the face of danger; oblivious to insult and disgrace, we hurtle along happily into misery and death.

Is it a case of ‘the brave ones are not yet born’? Is it a yet-to-be diagnosed ailment? Perhaps it is a case of situational bipolar disorder where, confronted by rudeness, we are as patient as a statue, but put in the situation of the offender, we embrace impatience and vulgarity with gusto. The ailment is baffling and difficult to diagnose. But one thing is certain: you know we are truly sick when we start ridiculing the one solitary, ordinary citizen who repeatedly stands up against this madness. I refer to the courageous man called Okiya Omtata. He is the only showing grit in the face of a shameless clamour for higher pay. But some of the comments about him in the social media are extremely disparaging. Imagine what 1000, 100, or even 10 Omtatas could achieve!

The case against increasing the salaries and benefits of MP’s is so simple, it does not bear repeating, but I will – for their Excellencies’ sake. First, this is a new parliament under a new constitution with new terms set by a constitutionally mandated institution – the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, which incidentally is the most representative commission there is. (Yes, MPs and COTU are represented). Second, at Kshs 1.3 million monthly salary and benefits, our MPs are still the most highly paid in the world. Third, our public wage bill was (and in many ways still is) unsustainable, given the size of our economy. Picture an elephant (public wage bill) walking on mosquito legs (the economy, no, poor tax payers)! It is ridiculous.

Listen to this: ‘We are expected to dish out cash to our constituents and to contribute to all manner of citizen needs. We must therefore be highly paid to meet all these needs.’ Or, this: ‘We were legitimately elected by the Kenyan people; if we are greedy the Kenyan people are greedy; if we are thieves, the Kenyan people are thieves.’ In other words, do not blame us. Really? Any pretence to leadership went out the window with those statements.

Which leaves us with the question: who will stop them now? Ordinary citizens? Which ones, the stoics? Perhaps civil society? But then these are often dismissed (unfairly) as noisemakers beholden to their pay masters. The Church? Forget it. The Courts? Not really if the MPs are determined and united. They have the power to amend the constitution – as they have threatened – to change the ‘offending’ clause that defines them as public servants. You see, our Most Honourable Highnesses are not public servants; that is too demeaning. I suppose they are private servants serving private interests.

It is perhaps only the president (and his deputy) who can stop this madness. But where are they? Their loud silence has been disappointing and has no doubt emboldened the MPs. They need to stare down their troops, failing of which they should employ the bully pulpit and marshal citizen support.

This whole brouhaha about salaries is a sharp reminder –if ever one was needed– of the long and difficult journey we still have to travel before we become practitioners of a mature, disciplined, and democratic politics.

While our MPs shamelessly clamour for the right to raid the nearly empty family granary, none of them seem to have a clue about how to replenish that granary. Just this week, a report by the World Bank – Doing Business in East Africa – was released. In it Kenya, the so-called regional giant, ranks below Rwanda and Uganda. Globally, Kenya is ranked number 121 out of 185 countries. Rwanda by contrast is ranked number 52.

If Kenya has to fill its granaries (expand its economy), it must remove regulatory and policy obstacles to doing business. That is what our legislators‘ energy should be focused on, besides holding the Presidency’s feet to the fire to ensure legislation is implemented as intended.

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