7 February 2013

Kenya: Civil Society Groups Demand Further Pay Cuts for Politicians

Nairobi — Civil society groups in Kenya rejected a new salary structure for government employees that was proposed on Tuesday (February 5th), saying the proposed pay cuts for the country's top political posts have not gone far enough.

The opposition comes a day after the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), a government agency that determines and reviews pay for public sector employees, unveiled the new pay structure.

Mwalimu Mati, executive director of the governance and media watchdog Mars Group Kenya, said the pay cuts were minimal and would not have a significant impact on reducing the wage bill.

"We in the civil society expected the president's [monthly] salary to be rated below 700,000 shillings ($8,000), then all other state officers come after him," he told Sabahi. "This will not only reduce the wage bill but make sure that only those who want to serve are attracted to the public sector. Most political aspirants seek [government] positions just for the sake of monetary gains, and this is what I thought should be discouraged."

Under the SRC proposal, the new president would earn a minimum of 1.3 million shillings ($15,000) per month, down from the 2.4 million shillings ($27,000) President Mwai Kibaki now earns, with the maximum monthly salary for a second term set at 1.7 million shillings ($19,000).

The new vice president would earn a monthly minimum of 1.1 million shillings ($12,600), while the speaker of the National Assembly, chief justice and speaker of the senate would all earn a little over 1 million shillings ($11,400). Supreme Court judges, lawmakers, governors and high-ranking military officers would also get pay cuts under the proposed changes.

National Civil Society Congress president Morris Odhiambo said the proposed cuts were not substantial enough, as politicians have been drawing huge salaries they do not deserve.

"It is a mockery aimed at maintaining status quo. Those cuts are not radical and the savings [are] too little to bring down the wage bill [that] we all have been yearning to see reduced," Odhiambo said, adding that his organisation will mobilise the public to reject the proposal.

Civil society groups had proposed that monthly salaries not be more than 500,000 shillings ($5,700) for the president, 400,000 shillings ($4,600) for vice president, 350,000 shillings ($4,000) for governors, 250,000 shillings ($2,900) members of parliament and senators, and 100,000 shillings ($1,100) for county assembly members.

Awarding high salaries for leadership jobs in government was meant to be a short-term incentive for politicians to extend their tenure and stay in office indefinitely, he said, dismissing arguments that reducing politicians' salaries would make them susceptible to corruption. He added that people's motivation to join government should be to serve the people, not to make money.

Addressing pay disparities

The new proposal could save up to 1.7 billion shillings ($19 million) a month and that the 14 billion shillings ($160 million) currently spent on government salaries is unsustainable, according SRC chairperson Sarah Serem.

"These new salary structures targeted 3,670 state positions," Serem told Sabahi. "We will be embarking on job evaluation exercises with a goal of setting salaries for the entire public service soon. This exercise is not only aimed at taming the huge wage bill, but also aims to award pay commensurate with [job duties performed] and further bridge the pay disparities among public servants."

Lawmakers' salaries, which have led to contentious debates over the years, would be reduced to a minimum pay of 555,696 shillings ($6,300) and a maximum pay of 740,927 shillings ($8,500). Their salaries would be further subjected to tax withholdings pursuant to the 2010 constitution, which had not been the case before. Previous lawmakers earned 851,000 ($9,700) per month, excluding other allowances.

Before the salary structures are adopted and implemented, Serem said the SRC would hold public hearings across the country, starting in Nairobi on Thursday.

"We are only going out to get the public views on the proposal in the interest of public participation," she said. "Our interests are to address pay disparities and harmonise salaries of all public servants. I know this exercise will not be pleasing to some, but it must be done to make our economy work for us."

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Joseph Kinyua said previously there was no standard formula used to award salaries to government employees. Some agencies held committee meetings to review the salaries of their staff, while others used collective bargaining or set pay rates based on individual lobbying efforts, he told Sabahi.

According to Minister of Finance Robinson Githae, 80% of all revenues collected in Kenya are being used to pay the salaries of government employees, which is stifling the economy and leaving the country with no money for infrastructure development.

"Rationalising and curtailing the spiralling wage bill is one way of putting the country on the path of economic sustainability and prosperity," Githae said in his speech at the announcement of the salary proposal.

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