By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 11 July 2010
In their usual inimitable fashion, members of the Kenyan Parliament voted to increase their salaries and allowances to levels dozens of times higher than the national average income.
Predictably, there has been a hue and cry from all segments of society, including some MPs, Ministers and the Prime Minister himself.
Listening to this hullaballoo, one is reminded of a person continually hitting his head against a wall in the hope that it will give way and allow him passage in the same way a door would.
Instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, we are happier ranting and raving against the symptoms for a while, before we move on to the next big thing.
In my view, parliamentarians have not broken any law, written or unwritten, in approving their pay rises. The constitution gives Parliament the powers to appoint tribunals to review their pay and recommend new rates.
It does not bar Parliament from varying the recommendations of the tribunal upwards or downwards and in fact states in section 45B sub-section 14 that “This part shall have effect notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution and, accordingly, if any such provision is inconsistent with a provision of this part, the provision of this part shall apply.”
Specifically, Parliament cleverly exempted itself from the provisions of section 48 of the constitution, which forbids the discussion of any “Money Bill” in Parliament without “the recommendation of the President signified by a minister”.
Section 45B was crafted to overturn this provision, allowing the MPs to run riot with the Exchequer in order to satisfy their financial needs.
The net effect of this move was to protect their salary and allowances from any oversight body other than themselves, finally confirming Parliament as a supreme body above even the constitution.
The second thing that we must consider before we condemn our parliamentarians is the nature of the Kenyan psyche. It probably is human nature to want to live a better life in future than you did in the past.
It is even more imperative to ensure that your offspring live a better life than you did. If one’s past is riddled with visions of poverty and want, it is only natural that one will do everything in their power to ensure that they never have to face the same difficulties again in future.
Our MPs are therefore only being true to type, and there is no use condemning them for succumbing to their own base instincts at the expense of their starving constituents.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to self-preservation!
This explains why even the wealthiest people in this country, who acquired their wealth fraudulently from public coffers, still consider themselves poor and in need of state largesse.
How else would one explain the spectre of grizzled old men taking up cudgels to fight for ‘‘our land’’ in the new constitutional dispensation?
How would you explain the involvement of some of the country’s richest families in monumental scams in the class of Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing?
To illustrate this point, one would challenge the loudest noise-makers to put themselves in the MPs’ shoes, replete with the almost completely unchecked powers and privileges they enjoy.
It is a dead certainty that if you put any of the loudmouths into Parliament, they would have no qualms at all voting to double their salaries.
As a matter of fact one need not engage in thought experiments over this issue. Erstwhile reformists in the Ninth and Tenth Parliaments joined hands with their bitter rivals every time it came to discussing their salaries.
The first order of business for the Ninth Parliament, which marked the end of the Kanu kleptocracy, was to increase their salaries and allowances.
Subsequently, they have unanimously voted to prevent the government from taxing their pay, despite loud protests from their own constituents.
It is the height of hypocrisy for Kenyans to keep making noise about the gluttony of their representatives when, in real fact, they are just envying the positions these people hold.
Members of Parliament are merely representative of the society that elects them, and we should not saddle them with values and attributes that are alien to them.
Where do we expect them to get values such as integrity, humility, and a pro-people mentality when these are absent in our society? How should they behave when they discover that they can exercise their avarice unfettered by any legal or constitutional bottlenecks?
To paraphrase a biblical injunction, let those without greed and envy in their hearts cast the first stone at our MPs.
The rest of us should just shut up and allow them to run roughshod over us while we applaud and egg them on!
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine