Monday, October 15, 2012

There’s a need to do more to tame MPs’ greed

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 14 October 2012

President Kibaki has declined to sign into law a Bill that, among other things, sought to award members of parliament a “winding up allowance” of close to Sh10 million each. This would have cost the exchequer upwards of two billion shillings at a time the government was adamant that there isn’t enough money to pay teachers, lecturers and other public sector workers demanding a pay rise.

This show of insensitivity only goes to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the belief that one should go to parliament with the intention to serve the country, rather than to enrich oneself. In Kenya, parliament has become one of the ways an individual can say goodbye to poverty without too much trouble.

To cure this malady, it may be worthwhile considering paying MPs a salary based on the average income of the citizen. This way, they may become more likely to support legislation that improves the average income of Kenyans through sound economic policy and prudent management of available resources.

Alternatively, their pay should be pegged on their income immediately prior to their election or that of someone with their qualifications and experience in the public service. This will ensure that they get remuneration commensurate with whatever they would be getting were they in other areas of the public service, eliminating parliament’s current reputation as a cash cow.

The President’s argument that he rejected the Bill due to its unconstitutionality also raises interesting possibilities. Article 2 of the constitution proclaims the supremacy of the constitution, and provides that any law that is inconsistent with constitutional provisions is a nullity to the extent of the inconsistency.

It, therefore, beats reason why the executive arm of government found it necessary to send back the Bill to an avaricious bunch in parliament who will, in all probability, find ways to get it enacted anyway. In my opinion, President Kibaki should just have assented to the Bill and then refused to implement the unconstitutional sections.

The constitution makes it the duty of every citizen to protect its integrity, and the President could have argued that implementing an unconstitutional law would expose him to the danger of impeachment and possible prosecution now or in the future.

Interestingly, it has been argued that the golden handshake provision was just a red herring, and the MPs never intended to get it passed in the first place. Some commentators claim that perhaps their key intention was to blind the public to the change in the elections law making it easier for them to defect from their political parties as close as two months to the General Election.

From where I sit, it is difficult to believe this argument given the sneaky manner they passed the amendment. It was not on the order paper, and it was passed without debate at night when very few Kenyans were paying attention. They wanted it badly, and they hoped that Kenyans would not notice.

It is necessary for Kenyans to institute a process by which the legality of the many self-serving laws our MPs have recently been making can be examined.

In any system of government, any combination of judicial, legislative and executive powers in the same person or institution is a recipe for a dangerous plutocracy over which the citizen would have absolutely no control. 

Dr Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and senior lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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