One woman against MPs' greed: Lawmakers threaten SRC boss for six hours over pay

Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) Chairperson Lyn Cherop Mengich.

Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) Chairperson Lyn Cherop Mengich during a past media briefing. MPs have threatened to punish the agency by slashing its budget if their demands for higher pay are not met.


Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • MPs scolded the SRC boss, threatening to punish the agency by slashing its budget if their demands for higher pay are not met.
  • MPs furious with the abolishment of the Sh5,000 plenary sitting allowance that members of the 11th and 12th Parliaments enjoyed.
  • The parliamentarians are also opposed to restrictions on the engine size of their vehicles, which the SRC capped at 3,000cc, in changes published in the Kenya Gazette on July 28.

MPs on Wednesday scolded the Salaries and Remuneration Commission boss, threatening to punish the agency by slashing its budget if their demands for higher pay are not met.

In a hostage-style move that has come to characterise every new Parliament, SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich endured a hostile six-hour encounter with the lawmakers, who are furious with the abolishment of the Sh5,000 plenary sitting allowance that members of the 11th and 12th Parliaments enjoyed.

The parliamentarians are also opposed to restrictions on the engine size of their vehicles, which the SRC capped at 3,000cc, in changes published in the Kenya Gazette on July 28.

The MPs also want the hitherto higher mileage allowance reinstated, and the caveat on the number of spouses and children who can be placed under their medical cover removed.

The push for higher pay came up during the MPs’ induction at a Nairobi hotel, even before the new lawmakers settle down for business.

CBK caution

In one of the sessions at Safari Park hotel, Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge explained to the lawmakers the challenge posed by the prevailing hard economic times and the piling public debt.

“For every shilling that we collect in revenue, about 40 per cent goes to debt servicing or in every Sh100 we collect, Sh40 goes to debt servicing. So you begin to ask yourself what about the salaries in the civil service, what about medicine, what about building the roads? So the point is that you will also need to worry about this problem personally and ask yourself…wait for a second, I’m not at a point where I’m falling, I’m collapsing,” Dr Njoroge said.

Despite the caution by the CBK boss, the MPs still pushed on with their quest for fatter perks, taunting Ms Mengich and reminding her that the hardline position she was taking on their pay was a road well-travelled by her predecessor, Ms Sarah Serem.

One MP added that Ms Serem had been taught a lesson after finding winning an election difficult.

With a consolidated salary of Sh710,000, which they pad with other allowances to push the monthly pay beyond Sh1 million, the MPs demanded more and accused the SRC of demeaning them with low pay amid heavy responsibilities.

Some warned that the SRC’s budget would be slashed if the agency would not yield to their demands, sources at the closed-door meeting, whose deliberations the Nation is privy to, said.

“We have the yam and the knife. We are going to cut your budget by half,” said Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, who also demanded that MPs from Nairobi be allowed to draw a hefty mileage allowance.

Budalang’i MP Raphael Wanjala insisted the medical cover benefits should apply to all spouses of a member.

“I have two wives. When I come here I am given a condition that I must only put one wife in the medical insurance. I have been in Parliament before and we used to put two wives on medical insurance. You are putting me, as a man, on a collision course with my wives, to choose who I love the most. And I am not able to know who will be the next to fall sick,” Mr Wanjala said.

Members of Parliament take the oath of office at the National Assembly

Members of Parliament take the oath of office at the National Assembly on September 8, 2022. MPs are opposed to restrictions on the engine size of their vehicles, which the SRC capped at 3,000cc, in changes published in the Kenya Gazette on July 28.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

He added: “You are also giving me conditions for the children I have sired. In Kenya, there is no law that limits us to give birth to only four children. I sire as many children as I can because I am a Christian and they told me to go and fill the world. Why do you reduce me to four children? I have 15 but five I am still paying for but the 10 have already left. We should consider the two wives because even NHIF has accepted.”

Mileage claims

The agency, which is mandated to set the salaries and allowances of all public servants, had capped the lawmakers’ mileage claims to ensure they did not spiral beyond the limit prescribed by the Automobile Association of Kenya.

The parliamentarians want the previous rate of Sh187.5 per kilometre to continue applying, as opposed to the Sh119 gazetted by the SRC. If the MPs are allowed to use vehicles with bigger engine capacity, the taxpayer will have to cough up more in mileage allowance.

“Don’t condition me to a vehicle of 3,000cc. I’m not a primary school child to be dictated to which car to use. If I want to use a car of 4,500cc, which I have parked outside there, I will use it and you will not force me to use a car of 3000cc,” said one MP.

Embakasi South MP Julius Mawathe added: “Do not victimise our colleagues so that you can pay Nairobians mileage. You cannot limit us to 3,000cc.”

Ms Mengich appeared to give in to their demands on this, saying it is an administrative issue that would have to be discussed with the Parliamentary Service Commission.

It was a big win for MPs representing constituencies in and around Nairobi, as they are all set to get mileage allowance.

MPs from Nairobi, Machakos and Kiambu fall under Zone A, whose mileage is 0-351 kilometres. MPs claim a mileage allowance of Sh116 per kilometre.

Those in Zone B, who move from 351 kilometres to infinity, will also get Sh116 per kilometre.

The MPs demanded a campaign reimbursement allowance if the Sh5,000 plenary sitting allowance is not reinstated, a proposal that would see them earn more than a Court of Appeal judge, who ranks higher in the public pay structure.

“We sit daily and you are taking away our sitting allowance. It’s only MPs who get a salary reduction every term. You must tell us why you are discriminating against MPs. We must treat parliamentarians with the dignity they deserve,” said Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo.

No commitments

But Ms Mengich refused to make any commitments on the plenary sitting allowance. “I will not give you an answer right now. It is an inclusive pay that speaks to the entire role of an MP through plenary, the committees and other things in your constituency,” she said.

Baringo Woman Rep Florence Jematia said: “Members of the commission should take their time to travel around this country so that they can understand what MPs go through. I come from Baringo where we sometimes have insecurity. When we have fights, people always come to you because they know you are everything ... MPs are beyond human beings.”

The lawmakers accused the SRC of coming up with a flawed job evaluation. Eldas MP Adan Keynan said they would pass a law placing them high up the pecking order in order to earn more.

“The correct order of an MP is number six in this country. We are working on a Bill so that MPs can have their place after the President so that they can earn what they deserve. Nowhere in this world does this happen. I urge MPs once you are appointed into the budget committee, rein in this commission,” Mr Keynan said.

Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge said the SRC should factor in the risk an MP faces on the campaign trail.

“I have to be interviewed by every Tom, Dick and Harry in my constituency while she faces a panel of five eminent persons and Parliament. I am supposed to be compensated as I take up the job. Lastly, the stress that we go through, we have to provide money for every person who is about to sleep hungry, and money for families who cannot afford a casket,” Mr Mathenge said.

Nominated MP John Mbadi charged: “The more I listen to the SRC, I get to understand that MPs and Kenyans do not understand the role of an MP. We are senior people in this country. We can impeach the President, we approve appointments, including your appointment.”

Ms Mengich, however, told members of the National Assembly that they arrived at their job evaluation through a scientific process.

“It’s not something that I will tell you now but we’ve heard you on the job, we will reflect on that and see whether indeed the issues you have raised were taken care of or not,” Ms Mengich said.

Speaker Moses Wetangula said: “We want to urge the commission that we have mutual respect and a relationship where you understand the role of an MP for what it is.”

House allowances

The MPs were also opposed to the Sh150, 000 house allowance, saying the commission had played games with them by splitting their administrative pay.

“The administrative allowance in the 12th Parliament was Sh284,000. What you (SRC) have done now is just splitting that amount into house allowance of Sh150,000 and Sh134,000 as salary adjustment then you tell Kenyans that you have given MPs a house allowance. This is just a con game,” said an MP serving his fourth term.

Ms Mengich replied: “If you look at the gazette notice, it explains why that is the case, and it talks about compliance to a court decision that salaries ought to be itemised.”

Ugenya MP David Ochieng interjected: “I have been in Parliament for the past nine years, but I have never received any house allowance. Where did what we were earning before go?”

But Ms Mengich clarified “it was consolidated into a package”.

Mr Ochieng pressed further: “We knew that we had Sh426,000 as salary and Sh254,000 as this motor vehicle and other things. So the question is where this Sh254,000 went because it was never a house allowance. Assuming you add the Sh150,000 you are giving us as house allowance now.”

“I cannot answer that as it is a technical issue. We will have to go to the PSC so that they explain to us and then we work with them. I do not have the figures,” Ms Mengich responded.

Reporting by Samwel Owino, Ndubi Moturi and Sidney Chazima

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