By Dr. Oduwo Noah Akala (M. B. Ch. B.)
There is a prevailing clamor in the national discourse regarding the issue of salaries. This is not only for Members of Parliament but for Civil Servants in general. The Sarah Serem-led Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) had recommended the reduction in the amount of MPs salaries. This drew support and condemnation in equal measure. Francis Atwoli, the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) came out in strong support of the MPs even going as far as threatening legal action against the SRC. However, the prevailing public mood appears to be in favor of the Serem Commission with social activists such as Boniface Mwangi orchestrating the much talked about “Pig Protest” against what they termed the MPs’ unbridled greed.
In my view, this matter can be settled by a keen examination of the roles and responsibilities of a Member of Parliament by law vis-a-vis the expectations of the electorate with regards to their representatives.
The primary role of the Member of Parliament has always been representation. The goal of such representation is to influence the political process in favor of their constituency. This means that if I am a slum resident in one of Nairobi’s sprawling 88 settlements then it is my MP’s role to make known my plight in terms of water scarcity, insecurity, poor infrastructure, lack of healthcare facilities, illiteracy, etc to the Executive Government. It is then the Executive Government’s role to address these issues appropriately. It is this arm of Government that collects tax and as such, it is they who bear the responsibility of putting it to good use.
This brings to light the ludicrous nature of former President Daniel Moi’s assertions that such and such an MP is responsible for the roads in their constituency remaining untarmacked. Members of Parliament have never collected tax. They cannot then be expected to play the role of the Roads Ministry. By the very fact that the President at the time knew of the said untarmacked road proves that the MP was doing his job. This confusion of roles was a popular political gimmick used at the height of the KANU era to disenfranchise opposition leaders from their support base and sadly, it has continued to date.
The political system in the African set up has been skewed resulting in a gross misconception among the electorate as to what to expect from their MPs (who form the Legislative arm of Government) versus what to expect from the Executive. I put it to you that the Executive constitutes the implementors of Government policy and as such bear primary responsibility for building roads, equipping hospitals, empowering women through education, training teachers and all other matters pertaining to public interest that you can think of. It is the MPs’ role to make these issues known to Government and to exert pressure on the Executive to fulfill their mandate to the public.
Somewhere along the way, we as Africans began to elect our representatives based on what they did for us in terms of cash hand outs, paying bursaries, roofing churches, etc. Basically, we chose our leadership based on mass bribery! This was not the intention of the founding fathers when they drew up and included representation in our democratic constitution. We have been led to believe that the rightful criteria for election was how much money one had at his/her disposal and not one’s ability to hold the Executive Government to task as to their campaign pledges. In such a body politic, it is inevitable that we end up with less than moral representation in some cases.
The end result of this is that our Members of Parliament are viewed as Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and they in turn view public office as the same. The core of my argument suggests that if we re-adjust our national mindset as to what the National Assembly’s role is as opposed to that of the Executive Government then dare I say that reaching a mutual compromise on the matter of salaries will be much simpler.