Kenya’s Obscene Politician’s Salaries: Still a Problem

President Kibaki will probably not win the Mo Ibrahim Prize because of his questionable reelection but he sure will leave office a happy man.

According to the Star:

“When President Kibaki walks out of State House after the next elections, he will go home with a hefty gratuity—Sh50 million. The gratuity, the highest to be paid in the history of the country, has already been factored into the 2012/2013 budget by newly appointed Finance minister Njeru Githae.

Apart from the one-off payment of the gratuity, Githae also proposes to increase the annual allocation for retired presidents from the current Sh17.7 million to Sh30.2 million. The increase is meant to cater for the monthly pension which is due to Kibaki plus what taxpayers have been paying Moi since he left office in early 2003. The two will continue to draw the pension for the rest of their lives.”

“……Kibaki will also be entitled to get a monthly pension equal to eighty per cent of his current monthly salary. Kibaki is currently paid a basic monthly salary of Sh2 million (about $26,000) and earns an average of Sh24million ($200,000) a year under the current exchange rate.”

The figures are actually a bit off. Under current exchange ranges 2 million Shillings a month amounts to about US$300,000 annually. Not a bad deal at all.

These figures, however, raise questions about compensation packages for politicians in Kenya. Recently the treasury bribed MPs to pass the new budget and to be nice to the banks with a “gratuity” amounting to almost US$50,000. This on top of their already obscene annual salaries which stand at US$ 161,000, excluding other shady allowances that are never included under official pay. The last time I checked, all things considered, these MPigs (as they are derisively called locally) make upwards of US$174,000.

Per capita income in Kenya (in current dollars) stands at around US$800, with about 40% living below the poverty line.

I have argued before that paying MPs a decent salary may make them less amenable to executive manipulation (For supporting evidence see Barkan and Co. on legislative strength in Africa). But this just takes it too far.

The evolution of parliamentary sovereignty in kenya

It is an interesting time as far as the institutions of governance in Kenya are concerned. The country is seeing the entrenchment of parliamentary sovereignty. Real power in the country is slowing but surely shifting from the executive to the legislature. Kudos to KBC and the parliamentary authorities for allow this to happen.

I am of the humble opinion that democracy is meaningless without credible de facto (as opposed to de jure) mechanisms for horizontal accountability. Elections (vertical accountability) take place only every five years, and even then votes, in most places, are oftentimes easily bought with bags of maize and sugar. The real game remains restricted among the political elite.

Democracy is only stable and productive to the extent that elites can check each other and agree to a modus vivendi. That is how democracy emerged in post civil war England. That is how it has been sustained in most of the West (even during periods of limited suffrage). And that is how it will take hold in Africa.

The trick is to end the one-man-show syndrome that has characterized African politics for decades. Kenya is making that crucial transition as power sips from Ikulu to Bunge and from Harambee Avenue to Parliament Road (more on the causes soon).

Let’s not kid ourselves that horizontal accountability equals democracy. It is not. But my contention is that it is better simply because the tyranny of 210 is, to me, definitely more palatable than the tyranny of 1.