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Kenyan legislators agree to lower pay after outcry

Updated at: 06/12/2013 11:05 AM
By TOM ODULA

(AP) NAIROBI, Kenya - Kenyan legislators have agreed to lower salaries, a government commission said Wednesday, after weeks of demanding higher pay which sparked off public outcry and protests.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission said they have agreed with parliament that its members will get around $75,000 and not the around $120,000 a year salary that legislators of the previous parliament earned.

The legislators also will get a one-off $59,000 car grant to buy a vehicle of their choice and can claim mileage under the local Automobile Association rates.

According to a statement from the salaries commission, the agreement was reached Monday.

Average income in Kenya is about $1,800 a year, which has fueled rage over the legislators’ salaries.

On Tuesday, activists spilled cow blood outside parliament buildings, calling members of parliament or MPs, MPigs and branding parliament "a piggy bank."

Activists celebrated the agreement between parliament and the salaries commission.

"It’s people power. The people have won," said activist Boniface Mwangi who has organized protests over the pay dispute.

"This battle was a fight between the 349 legislators and the 42 million Kenyans and the Kenyans won," Mwangi said. "I don’t think they (legislators) are going to try and raise their salaries again."

The legislators, who were elected on March 4, had threatened in April to disband the salaries commission for reducing their salaries.

Last month, MPs voted to overturn a directive that reduced their pay, hoping it would force the government to pay the higher salaries earned by the previous parliament whose term ended in January.

But the salaries commission warned government officials not to pay the higher salaries saying it was illegal, and that anyone who authorized the payment could be charged with abuse of office.

Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 that intended to remove parliament’s powers to set their own pay, instead giving the remuneration commission the power to determine salaries for all public servants.

Earlier this year, the commission cut the president’s annual pay from around $340,000 to $185,000.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission has argued that although Kenya was among the world’s poorer economies, its legislators were earning more than those in France.

Many Kenyans see their legislators as lazy and greedy in a country where hundreds of thousands live in slums. Legislators often argue that they need high salaries to give hand-outs to poor constituents for school fees and hospital bills.

The efforts by the members of parliament to raise their salaries sparked public protests including one last month in which pigs were released outside parliament.

In January, Mwangi organized the burning of 221 coffins outside parliament to protest the attempt by the MPs to give themselves a bonus at the end of their term.

The decision to reduce the pay for legislators came after a public outcry when the previous parliament attempted to raise their salaries to $175,000 annually and award themselves a $110,000 bonus at the end of their terms.

The salaries commission says Kenya can’t afford the bill for government salaries, especially since parliament expanded from 222 to 349 members in March, and new positions of 67 senators and 47 governors and their staff were created.

When newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta opened parliament in mid-April, he told legislators that the bill for government salaries came to 12 percent of GDP, above the internationally accepted level of 7 percent. Kenyatta said 50 percent of revenue collected by government went to pay government salaries.

Kenyatta urged the MPs to grow the economy before they demand higher salaries.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)