Thursday, August 24, 2017

The rising tide should lift our boats too

This is our dance every time we elect a new Parliament. A month or so before the general election, the Government, through the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, "reviews" the salaries and benefits of parliamentarians. The parliamentarians who will be affected are the ones who will join the new Parliament. None of those campaigning for re-election question the wisdom of the SRC review. The day after the election, however, brings clarity to the new members of the new Parliament and the eager beavers among them raise an unholy stink about how the SRC's review will turn them into beggars or pathetic figures and how the SRC has willfully blinded itself to the sacrifices that parliamentarians make and the investment that they put in in order to be elected. It's post-general-election in 2017 and we are in the middle of the dance right now.

The charge today is being led by the new Woman Representative of Kiambu, Gathoni wa Machomba, and the recently re-elected Woman Representative of Homa Bay, Gladys Wanga, a refreshing change from 2013 when it was an all-men affair. As in 2013, party or coalition affiliations are irrelevant. The Majority and Minority parties are united in their resolve. Come hell or high water, all parliamentarians are determined to reverse the SRC's decision to pay them less than the members of the Eleventh Parliament and to eliminate some of the benefits that members of the Eleventh Parliament enjoyed, such as car grants.

The arguments that were advanced in 2013 are the same ones that are being advanced today. The scepticism that we had for the 2013 justifications is the same one we are experiencing today. The nature of our representation is a reflection of the decisions and actions of Government thus far. If constituents demand contributions for medical or academic needs, it is because Government has not done what it promised to do to ensure that Kenyans enjoyed effective health services and their children attended good schools. Parliamentarians, as the ones charged with making laws (such as the Budget) and overseeing the expenditure of monies it has appropriated for the national executive, are largely responsible for the poor state of the education or health infrastructure that leads their constituents to demand contributions from them.

The past three parliamentary sessions have seen parliamentarians being well-compensated. However, they haven't kept their part of the bargain and many social and economic challenges continue to cause suffering in their constituents' lives. The SRC has given us an opportunity to remind them that parliamentary service is public service and public service is not rewarded with luxury, pomp or circumstance. Parliamentarians have not prioritised the "service" part of their mandate; they have, instead, almost always prioritised ways and means of doing the least amount of parliamentary work for the highest possible salaries and benefits. 

They wanted a car so we gave them a grant to buy one. They claimed that houses were too expensive especially when they needed one in Nairobi and one in their constituencies so we allowed them to establish a mortgage scheme for their exclusive use that would guarantee mortgages at very, very attractive rates. They claimed that it was in the interests of the nation that their health be protected so we allowed them to establish a healthcare scheme that prioritised their treatment at the public's expense. None of the privileges that we have extended to our parliamentarians in the past has translated into better living conditions for us today. That overwrought maxim is apposite: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again in the hopes of a different outcome. Perhaps it is time we tried the austerity way with our parliamentarians. Until their rising tide lifts up our boats, shouldn't they suffer the same fates that we do?

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