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Kenyans Debate Income Taxes for MP's

In Kenya, a review of parliamentarians’ salaries has triggered debate over whether MP’s should pay taxes like other Kenyans.Past budget proposals have enabled legislators to continue to avoid taxing their own expense account allowances, but Kenya’s revenue authority chief Michael Waweru suggested in testimony Monday that given their lifestyles and the pressures of the current economic slowdown, taxation would be a good way to contribute to the economy.African studies Professor John Maina of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University says that MP’s power to assess their own compensation and taxation remains a constant source of corruption that hampers the effectiveness of Kenya’s government.

“I think the Kenyan public has already expressed its displeasure.There have even been demonstrations by the members of the civil society showing their displeasure in terms of the pay raises for the members of parliament and also taxing their pay, because as of now, members of parliament don’t pay any taxes. And yet, every time around, they (MP’s) want to raise their pay scales,” he said.

One of the terms agreed to last year when Kenya’s rival parties formed their unity government and ended almost four months of violence, civil, and ethnic strife was to draw up and adopt a national constitution.Without a constitution in place, Professor Maina notes that Kenyan law doesn’t define in clear terms who should supervise the members of parliament and provide oversight of their salaries, staff and personal allowances, and define their tax obligations.

“We still don’t have a reviewed constitution in place which would review some of these issues.The coalition had promised to enact a new constitution within the first 100 days of occupying office.But so far, it’s over a year since the coalition has been in government, but we still don’t have a new constitution to address some of those issues of corruption,” he observed.

Another anti-corruption monitoring tool created to discourage public officials from misusing their resources and the ways they acquire and spend is the Public Officer Ethics Act, which has a wealth declaration provision that requires all public servants to spell out their wealth two times every year.But a report by Kenya’s Public Service Commission states that 28-thousand civil servants, including several thousand school teachers, disregarded the provision. John Maina says that this is just another weak statute with which Kenya’s anti-corruption apparatus has demonstrated its weakness to enforce the law.

“The idea here is to declare your wealth before occupying office, and then, they can determine when you leave office how much money you’ve made.But here, if you refuse to declare how much you have already, you are actually hiding the authorities from knowing how much money you have accumulated during your tenure in office,” he says.

Without the determination to enforce a spending code of conduct uniformly across all tiers of officials and public workers, the government, according to Maina, is unable strengthen public confidence and trust to inspire civil servants to act with integrity.

“Let’s make it very clear.The Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority is a toothless bulldog.It has never prosecuted even one single person involved in corruption.It’s run by Aaron Ringera.He’s been in office for the last six years and within those six years, he has never prosecuted anybody who has been involved in corruption,” notes Maina.

Recent polls have demonstrated a correlation between the Kenyan public’s views on the likelihood of new violence and the government’s failure to clamp down on corruption.Professor Maina, who is currently studying government under a fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, says the loss of confidence could inevitably result in premature end to the current government before the anticipated 2012 national elections.

“The public has shown displeasure in many ways, through public protest, through demonstrations, and through engaging our government leaders.It looks like Kibaki just inherited corruption left by President Moi’s government. So people are actually calling for dissolving the current coalition government of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga,” he cautioned.

Without a new constitution in place, Maina says he fears that those calls for a new election before the unity government is due to expire may inspire a repeat of the lawlessness that broke out in the wake of the December, 2007 vote.