The fans of this column may recall that towards the end of last year, when sections of the serious media leaked some information that the MPs’ sitting allowance was to rise sharply by a cool 185 per cent, we came up with a serious commentary on the issue and predicted that come 2012, the debate on the matter would raise hell at national level.
What was anticipated is now with us, as we are witnessing a drama built around this sensitive and sentimental theme.
To recap a bit, we basically argued that much as our honourable MPs may need some financial oxygen to help them cope with the financially difficult times we are going through so that they can have peace of mind and concentrate on their demanding duties of passing laws, debating and endorsing the national budget, serving as a link between the government and the electorate etc., the move to feather their nests at this time left much to be desired and bordered on recklessness.
Three reasons were given to argue our case in the write-up being revisited. First, the increase of 185 per cent of the allowances was too high to be justified, for even the inflation rate it was meant to offset was not all that high. Second, we observed that the timing was not proper, given that the national as well as the international economic environment was not conducive enough to accommodate this kind of unplanned, or rather unbudgeted expenditure.
The third argument was that since our men and women “of the people” are not the only social group in society feeling the brunt of the current harsh economic conditions, giving them relief to the exclusion of others won’t be acceptable to the community they depend on for political survival.
As one Haya proverb says: “An animal destined to die does not hear the hunter’s horn, no matter how close the alarm is”. So, like the proverbial hunter’s potential victim, most MPs and some leaders in government as well in parliament corridors opted to plug their ears and pursue the self-centered cause, despite the visibly hostile public reaction against the initiative.
It is against this backdrop that we have seen and continue to see the MPs’ sitting allowance saga turning into a national drama, and exposing serious weakness in government and parliament administration.
For lack of adequate space, we shall review briefly the performance of a few star political actors in this drama, as displayed in the short span of one month or so. First was the Clerk to the National Assembly who said he knew nothing about the MPs’ sitting allowance rise when the story hit newspaper headlines. National Assembly Speaker Anna Makinda contradicted the senior administrator by saying the increase was a reality and had a blessing from State House.
Ears were then tuned to State House. The spokesperson of the highest office in the land however, said the President’s Office knew nothing about the MPs’ sitting allowance business. Members of the public were at a loss as MPs themselves gave their own versions of the story and, on some occasions, attacked each other due to their different stands on the matter. Christmas and New Year season set in and diverted our attention from this hot, but time wasting theme.
Enter the second week of January 2012 and the debate is revived. Deputy Speaker Job Ndugai dwelt on it at length when he was invited as guest speaker by one of the leading television stations in the country. He noted that officials in other pillars of the state pocket higher sitting allowances than what is proposed for MPs, and suggested the establishment of a national Commission with powers to streamline allowances and salaries across the board.
Premier Peter Mizengo Pinda came next and gave all sorts of reasons to support the allowance rise. We were told MPs have several loans to be settled, their salaries are low, and voters depend on them for assistance here and there. The performance was not impressive, but we thought his stand was the government’s position on the matter.
And during the opening of the ongoing parliament session, Speaker Anna Makinda reiterated what she had said earlier that the President had endorsed the new allowances, only to be shocked the following day when State House issued a statement saying the master of sitting on the fence when confronted with tricky issues had simply advised MPs to apply wisdom while making a decision on this matter. This chain of events speaks volumes about the kind of administration navigating the state ship.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant(firstname.lastname@example.org