April 30, 2005
Nairobi: Kenyan parliamentarians are miffed after an independent report exposed their cushy working conditions – the country’s 222 MPs worked for only 57 days last year, yet attempted to push through a huge salary increase two months ago.
Francis Kaparo, the Speaker of the House of Commons, said the report, based on a survey conducted by the Institute for Civic Affairs & Development, a non-governmental organization, was meant to ridicule members.
“I cannot sit back and watch idlers play with the integrity of this House,” he said.
The people carrying out the survey never consulted him or the clerk, he complained, arguing the report was based on ignorance of the role of ministers and the business of the House.
The survey, released this week, was sponsored by U.S. Agency for International Development and the Konrad Adenauer Institute. It was based on parliamentary proceedings as reported by Hansard.
Parliament is supposed to sit on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and all day on Wednesday.
This adds up to two days a week, but Hansard showed the Kenyan MPs actually worked only 57 days, or an average of just over one day a week.
The survey also found that fewer bills were debated in 2004, than in the preceding two years.
The ministers were accused of relegating their duties to their deputies, who were overworked in parliament as a result.
Women ministers were said to have performed better than their male counterparts.
In addition, five MPs had yet to utter a word during parliamentary proceedings, while others appeared only to keep their name on the payroll, the survey said.
MPs often gossiped and laughed during debates, prompting frantic calls of “Order! Order!,” from the Speaker.
One of the parliamentarians was in the habit of arriving in a convoy of four cars packed with qat-chewing youths. He would then spend time in the parking lot, feet on the dashboard.
After a technical appearance in the chamber, he would be back in his vehicle, taking a swig from a soft-drink bottle when not chewing qat, a narcotic shrub popular through eastern Africa.
The survey was released on Wednesday, a few days after it was reported that the MPs wanted their medical coverage boosted to cover as many as two wives and eight children.
Treatment was only to take place at reputable hospitals in Europe and the United States, or at a private room in the best hospital in Nairobi.
They also voted themselves an extra $16,000 to set up new offices in their constituencies, with computers, faxes and at least five staffers.
In February, plans to award themselves a $15,000 retiring allowance when the parliamentary term ends in 2007 had to be abandoned in the face of public discontent.
The MPs already earn more than $8,000 a month, a fortune in a country where many people exist on as little as $1 a day.
The revelations of parliamentary padding come as the country continues to be mired in an economic crisis, caused by endemic corruption.
President Mwai Kibaki, who was elected in December, 2002, on promises to clean up the corruption that flourished under his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi, has found himself unable to push through any of the needed reforms.
Sir Edward Clay, the British High Commissioner to Nairobi, has repeatedly attacked the “massive looting” of public funds, and the United States and Germany have suspended their aid programs.
Commenting on the report, Jimmy Angweniyi, who was rated the most active parliamentarian, said, “We could increase the length of the day. We are paid well enough to work more than 57 days a year.”