Senators have joined MCAs in their push for better remuneration, a move that could see taxpayers cough up at least Sh10.64 billion more annually in salaries for the ward representatives.
The development comes at a time when the country is grappling with high cost of living, below target revenue collection and a ballooning public debt.
The lawmakers not only want the MCAs' gross monthly salaries increased to Sh397,320 but also want their sitting and mileage allowances returned as well as Sh2 million car grant, a move that will see taxpayers dig deeper into their pockets.
Kenya has 2,232 MCAs from the 47 county assemblies where 1,450 are elected while another 782 are nominated.
The MCAs currently earn Sh144,373 monthly as gross salary after the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) slashed the Ward Reps’ salary from the previous Sh165,000.
Further, the Lyn Mengich-led Commission also abolished sitting and mileage allowances and the Sh2 million grant it had approved in February 2021 in July ahead of the 2022 polls.
However, last month, MCAs revived the push to have their salaries enhanced by 27 percent from the current 16 percent of the governors' salary. This will see the salaries increased to Sh397,320 monthly. This will translate to sh886.8 million every month and Sh10.64 billion every year.
Leading the push for better remuneration was Kinanie MCA Francis Wambua who said they want MCAs to be treated equally with other elected leaders.
Senators have lent support to their counterparts slamming SRC for undermining devolution with the move to reduce MCAs perks.
Senate Deputy Speaker Kathure Murungi was scathing in his attack on the SRC, saying the Commission should be disbanded with immediate effect.
He said the current monthly basic salary of Sh86,625 being earned by MCAs is a slap in their face yet they are elected by the people to perform the same functions as senators who earn Sh710,000.
The Meru senator said in fact the minimum salary should not be less than Sh500,000 as well as given car grants and mileage allowances.
He wondered why the Commission sits three times a month drawing Sh40,000 for each meeting yet when MCAs sit in the county assembly to execute their mandate, they are denied their allowances.
“If devolution will succeed in Kenya, it is through empowering MCAs and senators as those are the two institutions that will be able to take care of the billions disbursed to counties,” said Mr Murungi.
Tana River Senator Danson Mungatana said it is time to come up with another body to determine salaries of elected leaders and not leave everything to the whims and decisions of the SRC alone.
Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale threatened to rally his counterparts to boycott passage of critical bills until SRC stops their arrogance.
He said Kenyans were not mad to amend the Constitution to create wards in the country for the Commission to belittle devolution.
“It seems the two ladies who have occupied the office had a brief from somewhere to make devolution fail. The way they belittle senators, they are now belittling MCAs. This arrogance must stop,” said the Senate majority whip.
Mandera Senator Ali Roba said it is time SRC stops making decisions behind the desk without understanding what MCAs go through as grassroot leaders.
He said over 12 county assemblies have closed putting devolution in danger as it comes at a time when counties are supposed to pass their budgets.
“Slashing the salaries of MCAs was extremely arrogant and out of sheer ignorance. SRC must be forced to wake up to reality on the role of MCAs. Devolution will grind to a halt if this continues and we should not allow this as senators.”
Senate Minority leader Stewart Madzayo said MCAs are the foot soldiers of devolution and should be treated fairly.
“We cannot allow such travesty against the MCAs. How can CECs, not elected by the people, earn more than four times more than MCAs. It should be the opposite,” said the Kilifi senator.
The senators were reacting to a request for a statement by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei who raised the alarm over the slashing of salaries and allowances for MCAs in the financial year ending June 2023.
He wanted the SRC, in the request for statement, to appear before the Senate’s Devolution committee to explain the justification for the reduction of the salaries of MCAs who are earning Sh86,625 every month.
Senator Cherargei added that the county legislators have also been denied sitting allowance, car grants and mileage allowances since 2022.
He decried that MCAs are the lowest paid yet county ministers they are expected to vet, earn more than four times at Sh404,250.
Data by SRC shows that a President earns Sh1.4 million, deputy president Sh1.2 million, speakers of Parliament Sh1.16 million, deputy speakers Sh928,000, governors Sh924,000, deputy governors Sh621,250, and MPs Sh710,000.
On the other hand, governors earn Sh924,000, their deputies Sh621,250, county executive committee members Sh404,250, speakers Sh525,525, their deputies Sh216,563 and MCAs Sh144,373.
The MCAs argue that since MPs salary is 43 percent of the President's, it therefore follows that theirs should also be the same hence Sh397,320 to replicate that of MPs.
The ward representatives also want the reinstatement of plenary allowances for effective legislation, failure to which they paralyse business in the assemblies.
Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruyiot argued that the SRC should appear before the Senate to explain the justification for the reduction of the salaries and allowances to MCAs, saying the move was “grossly out of order”.
He said it is unfair to expect the MCAs to perform their constitutional mandate while being paid paltry salaries while also being denied car grants, and sitting allowances.
“This is not about the earning or the well-being of MCAs, it is about devolution. I hope the devolution committee will lead us so that we can right what is grossly wrong to our MCAs,” said Mr Cheruiyot.
The Kericho senator said the lack of proper remuneration has seen some of the ward representatives turn into choir masters of governors.
“How do you expect an MCA who wakes up in the village with a line of 20 villagers expecting you to sort their problems with such a salary? Unfortunately, they will have to find creative ways to survive some of which involve undermining the very duty for which they were elected,” he said.
Kitui Senator Enock Wambua said MCAs are the primary overseers of devolution and expecting them to earn a basic monthly salary of Sh86,000 and then vet CECs who earn more than Sh400,000 is laughable.
He said the county legislators should have more salaries and allowances to properly equip them for undertaking their primary oversight role.
“Devolution will either succeed or fail in county assemblies and the success or failure will be directly related to the amounts of money that we give to MCAs not just as salaries but as allowances to carry out their responsibilities,” he said.
MCA’s are entitled to committee sitting allowances of Sh3,900 per sitting capped at Sh62,400 monthly where committee chairpersons earn 6,500 per month capped at Sh104,000 while the vice chairpersons earn Sh5,200 per sitting capped at Sh83,200.
Ahead of the August 2022 elections, SRC chairperson Ms Mengich announced a new salary structure for MPs and MCAs who will assume office after the August 9 polls.
The SRC had also in July 2017 cut the monthly pay of MCAs to Sh144,375, abolished the monthly mileage and sitting allowances and lowered per diem rates.
However, the High Court in 2018 reinstated the benefits, forcing the SRC to increase the cap on sitting allowances and return of MCAs’ travel perks, raising the monthly pay to Sh165,000.
MCA Wambua said that since 2013, MCAs remuneration has only been reviewed once, initially from Sh79,200 first to Sh123,750 then to Sh165,000 in November 2013 before this was downgraded in July 2022.
"In the Kenyan labour laws, even in situations of financial problems, an employee's pay cannot be reduced without consent. We therefore request the SRC to reconsider reinstating and reviewing the remuneration of members to allow them to become effective legislators," he said.
Last week, the county assemblies forum (CAF) and SRC proposed a new pay structure to be fully implemented in the financial year ending 2025.
In the newly proposed structure by SRC, the gross salary of the county speaker who currently earns Sh525,525 is to be increased to Sh601,674. The leaders of the majority and the minority currently receiving Sh144,373 equivalent to that of an MCA will be taking home Sh204,717.
The increase is to be effected in installments with the speakers earning Sh562,312 in the financial year 2023/2024 and the full increase to be implemented in 2024/2025.
The majority and minority leaders will earn Sh191,324 in the next financial year before the full implementation.
Deputy Speakers of the County assemblies who currently earn Sh216,563 will be receiving Sh247,943 with the implementation beginning in the next financial year at Sh231,722.
Nonetheless, a breakaway group of MCAs led by Mr Wambua has rejected the offer saying they will be the least beneficiaries of the newly proposed structure as it proposes an increment to Sh154,481 in the coming financial year and then to Sh164,588 in the financial year ending June 2025.
The ward representatives are pushing for issues such as the reinstatement of plenary sitting allowances, financial autonomy and revocation of the 30 percent tax levied on the car reimbursement fund.
Kileleshwa MCA Robert Alai, who is also part of the breakaway faction, accused SRC of using divide and rule method to scatter the demands of MCA’s.
“The salary divide is so huge in the proposed structure. They want to make the house leadership comfortable yet they are just MCA’s. We are aware they are using divide and rule to make the MCAs powerless in advocating for their demands,” Mr Alai said.