Kenyan MPs vote to give themselves £2,000 monthly pay rise
Decision provokes anger in country where monthly minimum wage in cities is just £50
Kenyan politicians were accused today of plundering state coffers after awarding themselves a monthly pay rise of nearly 25%, making them some of the best-paid legislators in the world.
After resisting calls to pay income tax for years, MPs finally agreed yesterday night to pay the tax, but only after giving themselves a sweetener of 240,000 shillings (£1,960) taking their monthly pay to 1,091,000 shillings (£8,920).
The news was greeted with anger in Kenya, where the minimum wage was last month raised to £50 a month for employees in cities and £25 for farm workers. Since 2003, when President Mwai Kibaki came to power, politicians have become notorious for regularly increasing their salaries. British MPs earn £5,478 a month, while a member of France's national assembly have a monthly salary of £4,260.
"Yet another drastic pay hike for MPs … is the most outrageous, insensitive, immoral and intolerant abuse and impunity by Kenya's officialdom the country has ever witnessed," said the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations.
On Wednesday, MPs voted to adopt the report of former appeal court judge Akilano Akiwumi, who led a review of politicians' salaries in the wake of public dissatisfaction. MPs' exemption from tax on all but a fraction of their total pay – their effective tax rate is 5% – was a source of particular resentment.
One recommendation was that politicians should pay tax on most of their salary and allowances, although about a third of remuneration will remain tax-free.
But instead of seeing their take-home pay reduced, ordinary MPs will be £100 richer each month, even after tax, thanks to the salary boost. The monthly salaries of the 40 cabinet ministers will jump to £9,700, with pay rising by 5% a year.
"When I heard this on the radio I prayed to God and said 'What is happening in Kenya?'" said Isaiah Khamala, 38, who supports his wife and four children with the £82 a month he earns as a gardener at an expensive Nairobi restaurant. "There are people who still do not have homes after the  election violence, yet MPs are just favouring themselves. This is money for tycoons."
Parliament also approved an end-of-term bonus of £29,500 for MPs, more than double the current bonus, which caused an outcry when it was signed off in 2007.
MPs postponed their recess, which was scheduled for today , to pass a bill next week that will enshrine the report's recommendations into law. The urgency is tied to the referendum on a new constitution on 4 August, which, if passed, will prevent MPs from setting their own salaries.
"Many Kenyans thought that the tribunal would lead to politicians' salaries being rationalised," said Mwalimu Mati, who runs Mars Group, an anti-corruption organisation in Nairobi. "But MPs have pulled a fast one on us again. Yes, they will be paying some tax, but it is the ordinary taxpayer that is bearing the cost."
Politicians appear oblivious to public anger, which began in 2003 when, having supposedly closed a chapter on the rapacious era of Daniel arap Moi, parliament's first act was to drastically increase their salaries. They then increased their fuel allowances and trebled Kibaki's salary to the equivalent of £280,000 a year.
In 2008, just months after the election chaos that nearly destroyed the economy, it was announced that the wives of the prime minister, Raila Odinga, and the vice-president, Kalonzo Musyoka, would join Kibaki's wife, Lucy, on the state payroll, receiving a £3,300 salary for promoting the "nation's family values". On Wednesday, Odinga and Musyoka's monthly salaries were increased to £26,500 and £20,500.
MPs often complain that they spend much of their pay in their constituencies, where they are expected to help out with school fees and funeral costs.
"An MP uses this money to serve his expectant people," Aden Duale, an assistant minister who will be paid £9,250, told the Star newspaper. "Let us reward people for the good work they do."
It is true that many politicians are nearly broke at the end of the month, though luxury cars and houses are often to blame. The Akiwumi report noted that after deduction of loans nearly half of all MPs took home less than £820 a month, with one in 10 having net pay under £80. The former judge recommended that MPs should be prevented from committing more than two-thirds of their salaries to loans. This, however was rejected, with the politicians saying it implied they could not manage their finances properly.