As a keen political observer, I have always been amused by the drama generated whenever Members of Parliament in African countries try to ask for a pay rise.
In 2011 right after the elections, Ugandan MPs asked for a pay rise. This stirred up a lot of debate and sentiments among the citizens at the time. In Rwanda, MPs too felt they needed a higher pay and true to their nature, they justified their request by claiming that;
- Their then salary didn’t fit their status as MPs compared to regional counterparts
- The money is too little for them to save anything by the end of the month
They eventually got the pay rise requested.
In Tanzania, the consolidated pay of an MP is estimated at US$ 14,000.
Now to the most recent saga that has taken up a lot of media attention in Kenya. The newly elected MPs did the obvious and wanted their pay revised right from the onset. This put them on a collision course with the civil society, their very voters and even the Executive.
The jostling began and mind games took centre stage to culminate in a settlement that may not exactly be a win-win. Civil Society activists did however seem to play a big role judging by their continued protests.
While I am a great sympathizer of the general public and the burden we go through to ensure that we keep the state’s bureaucratic systems afloat, on the issue of MPs and their salaries in Africa, I think they deserve as high a pay as possible.
Before you pull out your claws to scratch my face, I want you to take off your urbanville hut, transplant yourself to that rural locale where your roots are traced. In my case it is Kachongha village in Butaleja District, Uganda. Every time am there, I see people mobbing politicians, asking for their pound of flesh like it is the responsibility of these representatives to take care of their domestic affairs. Each time I attend a burial, a politician more so the MP must contribute. The average I have seen being contributed is US$ 40 (Approx UShs 100,000=). In a week, this MP must contribute to at least 10 burials in his constituency. To save on physical effort spent attending these burials, the MP has a Burial Personal Assistant (whom he pays) that spends their time shuttling around all the homes in the county that have lost their loved ones. He/she needs to be facilitated with transport to achieve that.
A friend of mine once visited a reknowned Politician from Busoga region on a Saturday and was amazed at the procession of Namugongo Pilgrimage proportions that he saw outside the gate of his home. People had began lining up as early as 6am waiting for a chance to meet this MP and vent out their problems hoping for an instant solution. Issues presented among others were; school fees requests, jobs, business loans, arbitration, requests to release jailbirds, Wedding contributions, divorce settlements, food, clothing e.t.c. The MP later told him that his Saturdays are always characterized that way.
So, imagine such an MP is earning US$ 10,000 a month and the people he represents extract directly from him not less than US$ 3000 per week, how much is he left with? This same MP has a family and lots of personal expenses to take care of too. Remember ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall’?
The request for salary increases by our MPs is a reflection of the society they serve. While it is our right to criticize them, we seem to be the same people perpetuating such tendencies that lead these representatives of ours to take corrective action. Urban folk may not ask a penny from their MP but most rural folk are ‘Guilty as Charged’.
As a society we have descended into a state where we sacrifice collective benefit for individual gain. We prefer to be given a 50 dollar handout as opposed to having the public road repaired. We vote people based on how personally they have addressed our needs as opposed to the communal achievements. We have either conveniently forgotten or become ignorant about the constitutional roles and expectations of our leaders. This is why you find MPs who build schools, health centres and erect boreholes winning elections. Wherever they get this money from, they need to replace. So, if they aren’t going to steal, then the only logical source would be their salaries in the August house.
I personally pity any African Member of Parliament who earns a salary less than US$ 200,000= per annum. The weight of misplaced expectations by the electorate on this continent is so much that it partially leads to the endemic corruption that is charcteristic of these leaders of ours.
Back to the Kenyan issue, I believe that the MPs were fair in their demand for KShs 800,000= as salary per month and the only mistake they made was not to breakdown their justification for the various centres of power to appreciate their challenges. Next time, these MPigs should borrow a leaf from their Rwandese counterparts who got their requested raise without a hussle.
And don’t get me started on the rationale of such high income inequalities. That is an argument for another day.