Via The Guardian Nigeria
, published on June 27, 2013.
Kenyans took to the streets the other day to protest a large increase in legislators’ salary (from a tax-free $6,200 to $10,000 per month), indicating that on the African continent there are still people sufficiently outraged by the insensitivity of their politicians to summon the courage to literally do something about it.
Although running a mere $76 billion economy with over 40 per cent of the population living below poverty line, the Kenyan lawmakers are said to have raised their pay in defiance of both a National Salaries Commission order and a plea against it by the new president, Uhuru Kenyatta. In effect, these lawmakers have on the one hand, chosen to wilfully break the law as prescribed by a constituted authority, and on the other have shown their imperviousness to moral suasion. It is pertinent to state, by way of comparison, that the salary of a member of the Congress of the United States, the largest and multi-trillion dollar economy in the world is reportedly $174,000 a year or $14,500 monthly, excluding other benefits.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in its 2011 Human Development Report assessed 187 countries of the world, using a number of indices to determine material and non-material quality of life of their respective citizens. Kenya, with a 0.509 score out of a possible 1.000, ranked 143 and therefore in the Low Human Development category. Life expectancy at birth is 57.1 years.
By their defiant decision to ‘feather their own nest, Kenyan lawmakers have shown utter insensitivity to the prevailing conditions of the average citizen as well as a lawless arrogance of power. Given that this is a new government voted in only a few months ago, it is difficult not to conclude that their primary and foremost motive for public post is pecuniary benefit. This is a pity indeed because rather than be an encouraging exception and signalise a new and better dispensation, this action falls squarely in line with the attitude and behaviour of most of their elected counterparts in other African countries. Indeed, if as it is popularly stated, democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, a Kenyan protester was quite right that ‘our parliament is defying our democracy’.
It is a crying shame that so soon after general elections, Kenyans are provoked to take to the streets against their so-called representatives. They cannot but wonder in amazement if these are the same persons that begged to serve and were duly obliged with a mandate to govern for the greatest good of, not the elected only, but the greatest number in the polity. If the behaviour of the legislators is a sign of things to come, then Kenya may be in for rough times. And the blame will lie squarely upon the self-seeking political class.
The only redeeming feature of this depressing development in Kenya is that at least the salaries of lawmakers are known to their employers, namely the electorate. Not so here in Nigeria where opacity is the defining characteristic of government spending – be it the remunerations of public officials, or contract to procure goods and services. And there is nary a concern by the people who should care and act about public opinion. Or how else can it be understood that in the spirit of transparency and open government, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), armed with the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, requested sometime that year, details of the remunerations of members of the Nigerian National Assembly from 2007 to 2011 and the non-governmental organisation was ignored! On June 25, 2012, Justice B.B. Aliyu of the Federal High Court, Abuja ordered the National Assembly to comply with the request by LEDAP. It is doubtful that the court pronouncement has been obeyed by the very parliament that enacted the FOI law.
The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is the body empowered by Section 70 of the constitution to determine ‘the salaries and other allowances’ of members of the National Assembly. Alas, whatever its recommendations are observed largely in the breach with the consequence that the precise pay of Nigerian lawmakers exist only in the realm of rumour. Simply put, the electorate, as employer, does not know for certain how much its employees, as public servants, pay themselves. On the contrary, the salary of the most powerful public servant in the world, the President of the United States, is known around the world; it is $400,000 per annum.
The Kenyan debacle is representative of corrupt, greedy, and conscienceless African leaders at various levels who gain power only to use it to serve themselves. The rapacity for political power is translated into avarice for filthy lucre, the misappropriation of an unfair share of the commonwealth, and a sustained impoverishment of the citizenry. Indeed the brazenness has become so widespread and has gone on for so long it has become something of a culture of governance. But this should not be.
An appeal hereby goes to the conscience and the sense of decency of Kenyans as well as other African leaders to see public office as an avenue for service and not a route to wealth and self-aggrandisement.
Photo credits: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters; Tom Odula/AP