Kenyan lawmakers raise taxes, take a hefty bonus
Protests broke out in Kenya after lawmakers voted to give themselves a $25 million bonus in a bill that raises taxes.
Demonstrators marched through Nairobiâ€™s capital todayÂ to protest another attempt by Kenyan lawmakers to boost their pay,Â after it emerged the officials had voted for a $25 million bonus for whenÂ they leave office.
In a quiet amendment added to the Finance Bill late Thursday, membersÂ of Parliament approved a golden handshake of $110,000 each to beÂ paid after their term ends early next year.
The sweetener comes on top of an annual package worth $125,000, which is 70 times more than the average Kenyan worker takes home each year.Â It would take an average Kenyan worker 61 years to earn the sum thatÂ each of the countryâ€™s 222 lawmakers would be given under the bonus.
â€śThereâ€™s no one Iâ€™ve come across whoâ€™s not been totally outraged aboutÂ this,â€ť says Rachel Gichinga, a manager at a Nairobi technologyÂ development center, who joined yesterdayâ€™s protests.
The move comes less than a fortnight after Kenyaâ€™s government said itÂ could not afford to cover pay increases demanded by teachers andÂ doctors, who had been on strike for three weeks in September.
â€śAfter everything thatâ€™s been happening with the teachersâ€™ andÂ doctorsâ€™ strikes, when the government said it had no money to pay themÂ higher salaries, to then give themselves $25 million is beyondÂ unreasonable,â€ť says Ms. Gichinga.
The raises for law makers will add to a revenue shortfall that will be covered by increased taxes outlined in the bill onÂ mobile phone moneyÂ transfers, banking checks, and withdrawing money from ATMs.Â There were reports that costs of some popular drinks, mobile phoneÂ airtime, and accessing the Internet would also be increased to cover the shortfall.Â All are areas that will hit both Kenyaâ€™s middle classes and itsÂ poorest citizens, in a country where the average annual per capitalÂ income is roughly $1,800.
â€śWe have been suffering for so long with these people as our leaders,Â and they know we will vote them out at the next election,â€ť says EvansÂ Odera, a civil rights campaigner living in Kisumu, western Kenyaâ€™sÂ main town.Â â€śThat can be the only reason they are trying to steal so much from us.Â It will not work.â€ť
Mr. Odera may be right.
A coalition of pressure groups, campaigners, and even some MPs andÂ senior ministers has formed to fight the move, and together they calledÂ on Mwai Kibaki, the president, to refuse to sign the bill into law ifÂ the bonus remained. [UPDATE: Four hours after this story ran, Kenya's president announced that he would refuse to sign the bill into law if the lawmakers' bonus amendment remained, meaning that the legislation will go back to parliament to be redrafted. It is expected that a majority of MPs, aware of the public outrage, will now distance themselves from the pay-off.]
Prime minister criticizes
Raila Odinga, the prime minister, took to Twitter yesterday to tellÂ followers that he was â€śagainst the MPs' gratuity bonus.â€ť In 2010,Â he turned down a pay-rise, agreed by lawmakers, that would have takenÂ his salary to more than that of Barack Obamaâ€™s.
Paul Muite, a former MP, said that his colleagues amending a bill to boostÂ their own salaries was â€śunconstitutionalâ€ť and vowed to challenge it inÂ the courts.
In 2003, Kenyan lawmakers quadrupled their pay as their first order ofÂ business after the 2002 election, and they have since tried toÂ increase their income far above the rate of inflation on three other occasions.
In 2010, they voted themselves a 25 percent pay-rise, to more than $14,000 a month, saying that new taxesÂ on their income were leaving them near-bankrupt. The proposal was removed after a public outcry.
Mwalimu Mati, head of Mars Group, a Kenyan governance watchdog, calledÂ the proposed bonus â€śbrazenâ€ť and â€świthout regard to Kenyaâ€™sÂ constitution.â€ť
â€śWe note that yet again [MPs] and the parliamentary service commissionÂ have abused their privileges and disregarded all rules of decency and
conflict of interest to purport to yet again enact increases to theirÂ personal remuneration and allowances,â€ť he says.