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Uhuru has called MPs’ bluff on perks; what will they do next?



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Two nice things happened this week. The first was the climbdown by Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko after his ban on passenger service vehicles entering Nairobi’s central business district led to a great deal of misery to commuters and private motorists alike.

To be fair, the decision to impose the ban cannot be blamed on Mr Sonko alone and was not as impulsive as has been assumed. PSV operators had been warned repeatedly that they would, one day, have to pull out of the CBD.

The problem was lack of foresight among the planners for what would happen if the ban was imposed without any alternative means of transport for people to get to their places of work or business without undue suffering.

This is going to be a rather long-running story because, one way or the other, huge numbers of both PSVs and personal vehicles will have to be taken off the CBD to ease the mind-boggling congestion that has made any form of movement in the city a nightmare.

The second good thing that happened was legislators at last came to realise they do not have the power to get everything they want at the expense of everyone else.

This was brought home to them by two important people — their own Speaker and the President — coming as a great relief to Kenyans who are, quite rightly, astonished by their representatives’ insatiable appetite for public resources.

Listening to these over-remunerated folks demand more and more money and perks year upon year had become sickening.

They do not seem to live in the same country as the rest of us, and it is not clear they truly understand that they have become part of the problems afflicting this country when they are supposed to offer solutions.

The fact that they have now beaten a hasty retreat and are unlikely to pass such a bill any time soon indicates they are headed for the Christmas recess with egg all over their faces.

Besides seeking enhanced medical insurance to include their second and third wives as well as girlfriends, the latest outrage was to demand a house allowance (although they already have a Sh20 million mortgage facility), a government vehicle fully fuelled and maintained by the taxpayer (though they already enjoy mileage allowance and Sh7 million car grants), and another mysterious fund ostensibly to help them “monitor and evaluate national government projects in their constituencies”.

Strangely, they argued they were not actually seeking higher pay they just wanted to “actualise the Parliamentary Service Commission” so it becomes like the Public Service Commission or the Judicial Service Commission.

It is not clear what that means unless the verb to “actualise” has acquired a new meaning — to steal from the taxpayer as much as possible in as short a time as possible.

This semantic nonsense is an insult to Kenyans. When they accused the media of peddling misinformation, they surely could not have expected these goodies to fall like manna from heaven.

So, when the House Speaker told them that according to the Constitution, they would not benefit from the bill even if they passed it, this must have put a serious damper to their voracious enthusiasm.

Surely, they could not have been fighting in order to benefit fellows who are likely to defeat them during the next elections four years away!

In fact, judging from the precedent set last year, many of them may be serving their first and last terms in Parliament.

It appears members of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee did not read the relevant section of the Constitution before sponsoring the bill.

It says, explicitly, that an Act of Parliament that confers a direct pecuniary interest on MPs cannot come into force until the next parliament is sworn in.

Unless some of these MPs are so vain as to think they will be automatically re-elected in 2022, they have been busy pounding water in a mortar.

To compound their woes, the President explicitly told them he would not sign any such bill into law, saying that Kenyans are tired of their representatives always thinking of their own stomachs first.

He also sent a clear signal that the days of MPs blackmailing the Executive are long over. After all, unless the Constitution changes, he is not eligible to run for the presidency again and couldn’t care a fig what they thought of him.

Many people are coming to believe that although the Parliamentary Service Commission is entrenched in the Constitution, if and when there is a referendum, the issue should be revisited.

The idea behind the formation of the commission was noble — to ensure the autonomy of Parliament, and, among other tasks, to look after the well-being of the members and staff of Parliament.

But it appears it has taken this last mandate too seriously. To many people, this commission seems to exist for the express purpose of agitating forever more money for parliamentarians even when the wage bill is strangling the country. This is a great shame.