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Demonstrators marched through Nairobi’s capital
today to protest another attempt by Kenyan lawmakers to boost their
pay, after it emerged the officials had voted for a $25 million bonus for
when they leave office.
In a quiet amendment added to the
Finance Bill late Thursday, members of Parliament approved a golden
handshake of $110,000 each to be 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. It would take an average Kenyan worker 61 years to earn the sum
that each of the country’s 222 lawmakers would be given under the bonus.
“There’s no one I’ve come across who’s not been totally
outraged about this,” says Rachel Gichinga, a manager at a Nairobi
technology development center, who joined yesterday’s protests.
The move comes less than a fortnight after Kenya’s
government said it could not afford to cover pay increases demanded by
teachers and doctors, who had been on strike for three weeks in September.
“After everything that’s been happening with the teachers’
and doctors’ strikes, when the government said it had no money to pay
them higher salaries, to then give themselves $25 million is
beyond unreasonable,” 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 on mobile
phone money transfers, banking checks, and withdrawing money from
ATMs. There were reports that costs of some popular drinks, mobile
phone airtime, and accessing the Internet would also be increased to cover
the shortfall. All are areas that will hit both Kenya’s middle classes and
its poorest citizens, in a country where the average annual per
capital income is roughly $1,800.
“We have been suffering for so long with these people as our
leaders, and they know we will vote them out at the next election,” says
Evans Odera, a civil rights campaigner living in Kisumu, western
Kenya’s main town. “That can be the only reason they are trying to
steal so much from us. It will not work.”
Mr. Odera may be right.
A coalition of pressure groups, campaigners, and even some
MPs and senior ministers has formed to fight the move, and together they
called on Mwai Kibaki, the president, to refuse to sign the bill into
law if 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 tell followers that he was “against the MPs’ gratuity bonus.” In
2010, he turned down a pay-rise, agreed by lawmakers, that would have
taken his salary to more than that of Barack Obama’s.
Paul Muite, a former MP, said that his colleagues amending a
bill to boost their own salaries was “unconstitutional” and vowed to
challenge it in the courts.
In 2003, Kenyan lawmakers quadrupled their pay as their
first order of business after the 2002 election, and they have since tried
to 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 taxes 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, called the proposed bonus “brazen” and “without regard to
Kenya’s constitution.”
“We note that yet again [MPs] and the parliamentary service
commission have abused their privileges and disregarded all rules of
decency and conflict of interest to purport to yet again enact increases to their personal
remuneration and allowances,” he says.

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