17 May 2013

Kenyan Lawmakers At Risk of Recall Over Demands for Salary Increases

Nairobi — Twenty-two civil society groups in Kenya have launched a petition drive to recall seven members of parliament for attempting to subvert pay cuts for public officials instituted by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

Representatives of these groups say the lawmakers acted in self-interest and against the constitution by attempting to disband the SRC in retaliation for the salary changes it introduced in March, which included pay reduction for Kenyan parliamentarians from 851,000 shillings ($10,200) to 532,500 shillings ($6,400) a month.

In April, the lawmakers targeted by the recall -- Gem constituency parliamentarian Washington Jakoyo Midiwo, Garissa township parliamentarian Aden Duale, Kitutu Chache North parliamentarian Jimmy Angwenyi, Eldas parliamentarian Aden Keynan Wehliye, Taveta parliamentarian Naomi Shaban, Homabay County women representative Gladys Wanga, and their leader Igembe South parliamentarian Mithika Linturi -- filed a petition in parliament seeking to disband the commission, alleging it had failed to uphold principles of transparency and fairness in discharging its duties.

Samuel Kimeu, executive director of Transparency International Kenya, one of the 22 groups behind the recall effort, said the petition is moving forward because they worry that lawmakers are "hell-bent" on increasing their salaries through what he called threats and intimidation tactics.

"Their action is in total disregard of the values and principles of the constitution regarding management and governance of public resources as enshrined in [its articles]. Therefore, in our view, we deem these parliamentarians unfit to serve the Kenyan people," Kimeu told Sabahi.

According to the constitution, a member of a constitutional commission can only be removed from office on grounds of a serious violation of the constitution, gross misconduct in performance of his or her role, physical or mental incapacity to perform his or her duties, incompetence or bankruptcy.

"So far, the reasons stated by parliamentarians seeking to remove SRC commissioners from office fail to meet these standards, and we see that as acts of intimidation and impunity driven by greed of the legislators for more money," Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) executive director Atsango Chesoni told Sabahi.

The controversy surrounding lawmakers' salaries has become so heated that on Tuesday (May 14th) demonstrators released two dozen pigs covered in blood outside the Kenyan parliament, resulting in police beating and arresting a number of protestors.

Gathering signatures

Wambua Kawive, executive director of the Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), another group behind the recall campaign, said his group has started to collect signatures from constituents of the seven parliamentarians. Once there are enough signatures and the threshold is met, the 22 groups will lodge public litigation proceedings against the seven lawmakers on behalf of voters.

The Kenyan constitution stipulates that voters have a right to recall parliamentarians only after they have served for at least two years. Petitioners must get support from at least 30% of registered voters in the parliamentarian's entire constituency, and support from at least 15% of voters in each ward of the constituency to trigger a recall vote.

"So far, we are doing well as far as the collection of signatures is concerned," Wambua told Sabahi. "The people's response in the constituencies concerned is good and we might meet the threshold in two months or less, so that we can mount the removal proceedings for all these parliamentarians who are disgracing our nation and insulting the Kenyan public."

He said they have collected slightly above 8% of signatures of registered voters in the relevant constituencies.

Meanwhile, in order to make the requirements for a recall petition less cumbersome in the future, Law Society of Kenya Chairman Eric Mutua said his organisation would file a separate lawsuit on May 23rd to demand that some articles of the recall clause be abolished from the constitution.

"We need an easy [system] in which Kenyans can hold their leaders accountable, with the law as it is now it is almost impossible to have unfit [lawmakers] recalled," he said.

The lawsuit will challenge the constitutionality of the clause requiring lawmakers to have served at least two years before being subject to a public recall, as well as the 500,000 shillings ($5,970) required to be paid to the elections body, he said. In addition, civil society groups will seek to remove provisions that allow politicians to vie for public office after being recalled.

Parliamentarians: we are demanding 'what is rightfully ours'

For his part, parliamentarian Linturi said that neither him nor the other six politicians being targeted are worried about the increasing public pressure or legal proceedings against them.

"We have not violated the constitution. We are, in fact, defending it as we demand for what is rightfully ours," Linturi told Sabahi. "In fact, the SRC violated the constitution, and this is the reason I have petitioned parliament to remove the commissioners from office. The lobby groups should be focusing their energies on disbanding this team and not on us who are only demanding a [fair] salary," he said.

However, according to SRC chair Sarah Serem, the commission acted in full compliance with the constitution.

"We never slashed salaries for parliamentarians [in the middle of their terms, as] the legislators claim," Serem told Sabahi. "We were setting a new pay [table] for new office holders. Kenyans, by promulgating a new constitution, reorganised the governance structure of the country as well the positions that come with it."

"The role of parliament was redefined, creating a National Assembly and Senate as defined in Articles 95 and 96 [of the Constitution], a position which is very different for the role of parliament under the old constitution. So for us, we were dealing with completely new positions. We did not violate any constitutional provisions and we were only executing our mandate as terms of reference dictate," she said.

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