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Covid-19: MPs, judges lose Sh1.6 bilion in hefty allowances

Judges and Members of Parliament will lose about Sh1.6 billion in perks in the four months to June after restrictions imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus suspended meetings and non-essential court sessions.

The pause in meetings has denied MPs opportunities to boost their parliamentary earnings through a string of perks like mileage, sitting and subsistence allowances earned from foreign travel.

Judiciary staff, including judges, have also lost allowances drawn from out of station work and per diems following an order for the employees to work remotely, including hosting court sessions via video conferencing and delivering judgments through apps like Zoom and Skype.

In a notice to Parliament, Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani says taxpayers will save Sh850 million from perks offered to lawmakers due to the freeze on parliamentary sessions – including committee meetings – which recently had emerged as an avenue for boosting MPs’ pay.

Mr Yatani informed MPs during the review of the national Budget for the year to June that pay savings from the Judiciary will top Sh754.5 million, mainly perks offered to judges. Judges, especially those of the Court of Appeal, hear cases and deliver judgments out of the duty stations in what is known as Judiciary circuit through which they offer justice in zones that lack senior court officials.

“The rationalisation of the recurrent budget has been informed by actual requirement for payment of salaries to the end of the financial year, realising savings of Sh850 million for Parliament,” said Mr Yatani.

“Savings are a result of restrictions imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 on domestic travel, foreign travel, training and workshops and reduced activities based on guidelines for working from home,” said the Treasury Secretary.

The entire civil service looks set to save billions of shillings following the order to work from home given travel, hospitality and training cost taxpayers Sh22 billion in the year to June or an average of Sh2 billion monthly. Employers have pushed their staff to work from home in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has drastically changed the way business is conducted.

Kenya has suspended international passenger travel, closed schools indefinitely, closed bars and golf clubs and imposed a daily dusk-to-dawn curfew as well as banning public gatherings to curb the spread of the virus that has infected 490 people locally and killed 24 as of yesterday. Another 120 persons have recovered. Globally, over 3.5 million people have been infected with the virus.

Parliament suspended all foreign travel effective March 13 and directed that all conferences, retreats and workshops be held within its precincts in Nairobi in the wake of the global pandemic.

Committee meetings have also been reduced, save for those that touch on budget and health because they are critical in allocating money and shaping policy decisions in the fight against Coronavirus. This has stopped the allowances gravy train given that perks have the effect of doubling an MP’s basic salary, which stands at Sh580,000.

The total take-home for a Kenyan MP rise to Sh1.1 million per month when perks from mileage, sitting, responsibility and pension allowances are factored in.

Lawmakers earn Sh5,000 per committee session with chairpersons earning Sh8,000. They earn a per diem of Sh18,000 per day for meetings held in big towns like Mombasa and Kisumu and Sh10,500 in small urban centres.

Juicy perks are offered for foreign trips depending on countries. Lawmakers travelling to the US, for instance, are paid a daily subsistence allowance of Sh63,312 ($658), the United Kingdom (Sh74,185), Japan (Sh80,000) and South Africa (Sh49,168).

This does not include the enhanced grants lawmakers enjoy such as Sh5 million to buy cars and mortgages of up to Sh20 million priced at three percent.

Annually, the total cost of these salaries and allowances stands at Sh15.7 billion, exerting pressure on the ballooning Kenyan public sector wage bill. This has cemented MPs status as super earners.

Judges, like MPs, earn Sh18,200 as per diem and those that serve in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) earn a sitting allowance of Sh40,000 per meeting with the vice-chairperson and chair taking home Sh45,000 per meeting respectively.

Last month, the National Council on Administration of Justice — the policy-making organ of the Judiciary chaired by Chief Justice David Maraga — directed judges and magistrates to work from home to curb the spread of the Coronavirus through normal court sessions.

Under the directive, judges and magistrates are issuing judgments and rulings that are then published weekly in the Judiciary, Kenya Law Review and Law Society of Kenya websites. The council further directed that judgements be delivered through video conferencing technology and restricted some hearing to open spaces with the courts in cases where the public are in attendance.