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Kenyan High Court to Hear Arguments Against Parliament Pay Raise

  • VOA News

Kenyan demonstrators, some chained to each other, gather near the gate of parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, May 14, 2013.

Kenyan demonstrators, some chained to each other, gather near the gate of parliament in Nairobi, Kenya, May 14, 2013.

The Kenyan High Court will hear complaints Friday from civil society organizations opposing a controversial salary increase for members of parliament.

Kenyan lawmakers, already among the world's highest paid, voted unanimously this week to raise their own salaries to the equivalent of about $10,000 a month.

The vote reversed an earlier decision by a remuneration commission that cut their annual salaries from about $126,000 to $78,000 as part of an effort to trim the government's public sector wage bill.

Apollo Mboya, head of the Kenyan Law Society, one of the groups challenging the lawmakers' decision, said Kenya's constitution no longer allows lawmakers to set their own pay.

"What we have put in the petition seeks to declare that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission is the constitutionally mandated institution that can set salaries for public officers and state officers in Kenya," Mboya said. "Nobody should enforce the salary demands the MPs have awarded themselves, irregularly and against the constitution."

On Thursday, a court ruling temporarily blocked the lawmakers' increased pay, at least until the court hears the challenge on Friday. Mboya said he wants the court to permanently block parliament's decision.

Lawmakers sid they need the higher salaries so they can give to charitable organizations and help poverty-stricken constituents. Some also said it makes them less vulnerable to bribes.

Protests

But critics said the legislators' salary demands are greedy, especially in a country where many live in poverty. In a recent display of disgust, protesters released dozens of pigs at the entrance to parliament.

One member of parliament, James Opiyo Wandayi, told VOA the protesters do not understand the issues. He pointed out that, unlike in previous parliaments, lawmakers are now required to pay taxes.

"The Parliamentarian Service Commission, which is in charge of members of parliament and other staff of parliament, needs to make a clarification or to do a sensitization [campaign] so the public may come to understand the issues as they are," Wandayi noted. "Because what is not being told is that the legislators this time around, unlike in the past, are obligated to pay taxes just like any other member of the public."

Kenya's newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has urged lawmakers to accept the pay reduction, saying he and the members of his office have already done so. He said lawmakers should focus on growing the economy before demanding any further pay increases.

Last month, Kenyatta said half of the revenue collected by the government went to pay for government salaries. Kenya spends 12 percent of gross domestic product on public wages, well above the internationally accepted level.

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