22 February 2013

Kenya: SRC Must Set Realistic Pay


The genesis of the skewed remuneration of state/public officers possibly started at the time when external interests forced the Moi administration to engage the so-called dream team - experts from the private sector to come into the public sector and spearhead "their" desired package of reforms.

These private sector mandarins negotiated high packages for themselves as they perceived that they were "sacrificing" their time to work for Kenyans. The problem seems to have been compounded when the Narc administration took over and brought in a few favoured corporate types to take over key positions, again negotiating exaggerated pay packages.

Those who occupy some of these positions and who have compounded the situation assume that public office is an arena for self-aggrandisement. The logic is that if one joins the public sector from the private sector or if one takes up a high profile public sector job like that of a commissioner, then they must be paid salaries commensurate to what they were earning in the private sector.

This logic is completely flawed and is against the spirit of the constitution.

We understand the need for the public sector to employ and retain competent staff but this must not be done at the expense of the principles of public finance enumerated under Article 201 of the constitution and the principles of governance in Article 10. It is these principles that must guide the setting of salaries and remuneration.

The amounts the Salaries and Remunerations Commission has recommended for key state officers such as the President, Deputy President and Chief Justice are still way to high for our economy to sustain.

As civil society, we have been looking forward to a major departure from the status quo with the aim of enabling the country to rationalise its budget and ensure that significant amounts are put into development away from recurrent expenditure and consumption. The recurrent expenditure must not exceed 40 per cent of our earnings while the development budget must take at least 60 per cent of our earnings.

The formula used does not seem to have taken sufficient account of the country's earnings. Working out a ratio for both the lowest and highest earners based on the per capita income will enable us not only to rationalise our budget but also to properly peg our salaries to the health of the economy.

This would also provide an incentive for individuals within the public sector to work harder in facilitating and enabling the country's growth sectors and increase the chances of realising overall development.

The constitution makes it clear that the public finance system must promote an equitable society. Sustainable development can only be realised if resources are utilised in a responsible manner.

The wage differential between the highest and the lowest paid in Kenya is at 169 per cent compared to Canada's at 7.9 per cent. Rwanda's differential is at 72.2 per cent. The commission intends to reduce Kenya's differential to 80 per cent. This is not sufficient to deal with the problem we face. We must be radical on this aspect and present a much more reduced differential. Our proposal still stands that the highest paid state officer (the Head of State) should earn at most Sh500,000.

We also need a better regime of managing allowances which have been used to distort the earnings of state and public officers. Kenyans know that many times when state/public officers go on trips either local or international, their prime motivation is not to realise benefits to the country and to Kenyans, but to earn allowances and enrich themselves corruptly. The issue of allowances must not be used to insinuate that people have to be paid salaries that are not sustainable just because they are not going to earn allowances!

The commission also needs to clarify that the exercise is meant to set the salaries of state officers. The key word is "set" and the public must be educated to understand that the commission has the constitutional mandate to set salaries and is shielded from any complaints or legal suits regarding the salaries set. Those opining that their salaries are being "reduced" are engaged in attempts to manipulate public opinion to their favour as many of them are beneficiaries of a skewed system.

The writer is the president of the National Civil Societies Congress.

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