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Take a leaf from Sweden, whose politicians enjoy no privilege

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South African newspaper Mail & Guardian of May 31, 2019 had a story by Brazilian journalist Claudia Wallin about Swedish politicians.

The story is taken from her book, Sweden, the Untold Story. In it, she writes: “In one of the least-corrupt countries in the world, politicians use public transport, do their own laundry and are treated just like everyone else.”

Ms Wallin, who has lived in Sweden since 2003, says the Scandinavian country offers no privileges to its politicians.

Cabinet ministers and MPs have no official cars or government-paid drivers, bodyguards, secretaries or personal assistants.

They have no parliamentary immunity and, so, can be taken to court like any other citizen.

Parliamentary offices are small rooms, no more than eight square metres. Even the Speaker of the Parliament is given a card to use on public transport.

Only the Prime Minister has the right to use a government car, which is provided by the security agencies.

The Swedish taxpayer is the decision maker on political privileges and gives that very cautiously.

A Swede, Joakim Holm, is quoted in the book as saying: “I am the one who pays the politicians, and I have no reason to give them a life of luxury.”

Politicians lead the life of the average citizen whom they represent. None earns an ‘obscene’ salary. A member of the Riksdag (Parliament) takes home about twice a primary school teacher’s monthly salary.

Councillors (the equivalent to MCAs in Kenya) do not earn a salary or allowance at all. They have no right to an official car or an office.

They work from home, and their work is voluntary and is considered honourable in the service of the people. They cost the taxpayer nothing but the taxpayers get services from them.

Leadership is an honourable privilege and it is enough to be allowed to enjoy it.

And yet no one is addressed as “honourable” or, in Kenyan parlance, “mweshimiwa”. No title that elevates one citizen above the other is used. All are equal.

In the capital city, Stockholm, it is not uncommon to see the Speaker of the Riksdag in an underground train, or the Foreign minister pushing a trolley in a supermarket or the city mayor queuing at a bus stand.

This practice is extended to judges and other public servants, such as principal secretaries.

There is no Parliamentary Service Commission. What for? Aren’t members of the Riksdag in the service of the public, elected by the public to serve them?

Swedes can track the expenditure and tax returns of public officials. Ms Wallin gives a 1990s case of then-Deputy Prime Minister Mona Sahlin, who bought a bar of chocolate, nappies and some other personal items using a government credit card.

For the scandal, which would later be known as the Toblerone Case, she lost her job.

Have the leaders who always travel abroad on benchmarking trips tried to put these experiences into practice to save taxpayers’ funds, which could be channelled into development? It’s time the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) took a leaf from the Swedish book.





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