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Nairobi Crowds Protest Pay Raise for Kenyan Legislators

  • Michael Onyiego

Protesters march in the streets of Nairobi, holding a placard that reads "Pay us first!! Teachers-Police-IDPs" 08 Jul 2010

Protesters march in the streets of Nairobi, holding a placard that reads "Pay us first!! Teachers-Police-IDPs" 08 Jul 2010

As Kenyan lawmakers defend a salary increase making them one of the highest paid legislative bodies in the world, more than 150 people gathered outside parliament Thursday to express their outrage with the officials.

A crowd of protesters gathered in front of Kenya's parliament building and demanded to see Parliamentary Speaker Kenneth Marende in an attempt to voice their frustration with the country's legislators.

The group marched on the government building Thursday morning to protest a self-awarded pay raise for Kenyan parliamentarians. In addition to demanding to see Speaker Marende, the crowd called members of parliament thieves and accused them of betraying the people.

Public outcry over parliamentarian salaries erupted Friday, after legislators adopted a recommendation that their salaries be raised. The recommendation came from a commission set up to explore taxing the salaries of parliament after public outcry over their tax-exempt status.

The Akiwumi Report, named for the retired judge who chaired the commission, recommended taxing the salaries, but proposed a pay-raise to alleviate the tax burden.

Compensation for Kenyan lawmakers has been historically high, but the proposed raise would give members more than $175,000 per year, more than lawmakers in the U.S. Congress, and second only to the members of parliament in Britain. According to Kenya's newspaper the Daily Nation, the proposed increase would mean parliamentarians earn 113 times more than the average citizen. That compares with the United States, where legislators make 11 times more than the average worker.

Many Kenyans see the raise as a way for legislators to avoid the burden of paying increased taxes. Nairobi saleswoman Rose Kamuku says the move is unfair, and that members of parliament are motivated by greed.

"I think our MPs are very greedy, because they don't think about the other people," Kamuku said. "Financially we are struggling. We have not yet recovered from the post-elections; and then they are increasing their salaries. That is not fair. I get very little, but I pay the tax. What makes me angry is they don't want to pay the tax," she said.

Tensions have been further inflamed by statements from members of parliament defending the raise.

On Wednesday, Speaker Marende said that parliament had simply adopted the findings of the Akiwumi Report as a necessary measure.

But critics point to the actions of the Parliamentary Service Committee, which adjusted the salary recommendations in the report by nearly 15 percent before presenting it for a vote.

Nairobi University Professor Dennis Okumu called the actions of the legislators disgraceful.

"Here are people who are supposed to be representing and defending and actually doing much more than what they are doing in order to make the lives of these people much better. These are the very people that are increasing their pay every day, every night, every opportunity that they get. It is something that, as a nation, we should be ashamed of," he said.

The raise is likely the last to be awarded through an act of parliament. Kenya is preparing for an August referendum, which could end a nearly 20-year wait for a new Constitution. Under the proposed set of laws, which has wide support among the Kenyan public, parliament will no longer be able to set their own salaries.

The referendum has provided a further source of controversy over parliament's pay. The raise would cost Kenya more than $12 million during the next year. The expenditure has drawn criticism on the heels of an announcement by the chairman of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, Isaac Hassan, that the body does not have enough funding to administer the referendum.

Some prominent government members have condemned the actions of Kenya's parliament. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called the move unfair, and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said the increase would place an excessive tax burden on the Kenyan people.