A $120,000 (USD) annual salary, a $58,000 grant for a car and a $98,000 “golden goodbye”. These items sound like the sort of extensive benefit package of a hard-working executive in a multi-national corporation. In fact, each of the above has been highlighted recently as part of the excess of wealth at the center of benefits packages for Members of Parliament in Kenya and Tanzania, two countries at the heart of Africa’s success story over the last decade.
Issues of accountability and representativeness are cornerstone markers of progress towards improving good governance. However, recent events in both Kenya and Tanzania have cast doubts about the extent to which many elected representatives seek to govern in the interests of all citizens, those they are in office to represent.
In May 2013 uproar erupted in Kenya after MPs voted to have a $120,000 annual salary, claiming that hard work and constituent representation meant that they deserved such a salary. The average income in Kenya is $1,800. The uproar led MPs to instead agree to a reduced package earning $75,000 but also receiving a $58,000 grant for a car. The package followed a decision in January by MPs to award themselves a bonus of $110,000 each, 60 years of wages for a Kenyan earning the country’s average salary.
Kenya is by no means alone in the largesse of its parliamentarians. In January 2014 Tanzania hit the headlines when its MPs voted to award themselves a $98,000 bonus to be granted at the end of their parliamentary term. Awarded to each of Tanzania’s 435 MPs, the total amount spent on the bonus is vast. The bonus comes of top of an annual salary of $84,000 (approx.), a $22,000 bonus for attending parliamentary sessions and an additional living allowance of $13,000, amongst other perks. Opposition leader James Mbatia responded by claiming that Tanzania had compromised the values of its founding father Julius Nyerere.
These issues highlight the financial waste at the heart of politics in both Kenya and Tanzania. The actions of these parliamentarians of course are by no means alone in Sub-Saharan Africa, or across the world at large. After all, the UK Parliament recently proposed an 11% pay rise for UK MPs taking their salary to 74,000 GBP ($123,000) at a time of strict austerity cuts being implemented across the country.
The issue of pay raises a number of substantive questions. Is it fair to say that contemporary politicians in Sub-Saharan Africa have compromised the values of their founding fathers? What role can an emerging civil society play in effectively holding parliamentarians to account between elections? Finally, how can the opportunity cost of the diversion of large sums of money to MPs as wages, rather than towards public health, education and infrastructure be leveraged?