Kenyan police on Tuesday fired teargas and used water cannons to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who had camped outside Parliament protesting an attempt by lawmakers to increase their own pay.
The protests began with a march through Nairobi's streets, with demonstrators chanting and carrying placards critical of Members of Parliament (MPs). Protesters had planned to then go inside and "Occupy Parliament," but that proved difficult after police in riot gear surrounded the building.
The police made 15 arrests, but struggled to control the agitated crowd as well as a drove of pigs – bearing the inscriptions "MPigs" – which demonstrators brought to the assembly's entrance. They also covered the ground with pig blood, which the pigs mingled in.
“We want to see resources being directed to service delivery, not meeting the wage bill” of lawmakers, says Morris Odhiambo, the director of the Centre for Law Research International.
According to Mr. Odhiambo, many Kenyans were living in deplorable conditions, because their tax money has either been stolen or paid to undeserving people. Nurses and teachers, who have sought pay increases, have not received serious attention from the government, he says. “The attempt by MPs to increase their salary emphasizes the highest level of impunity.”
Kenya recently decreased the legislators’ annual earnings from $120,000 to $75,000 to rein in the burgeoning salary expenses, following the creation of new state offices by a new constitution. Some analysts were already warning government operations may become unsustainable unless the government controls salaries of state officers.
Disregarding the developments, MPs have demanded an upward adjustment of the salary from the current $6,250 back to $10,000 per month, demands that have angered the public.
“If they can’t take the pay, they should resign. We want to rein in their greed. They have not done any work and we are disappointed they are seeking a pay raise even before they work,” says Mr. Simon Muoki, a young environmental rights campaigner.
“This has been our country’s problem for the last 50 years. MPs have forced decisions – including their pay – in disregard of the feelings of those who elect them,” says Jedida Wanjiru, an octogenarian at the demonstrations.
For the past month, the lawmakers have arm-twisted the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), a government body that’s sets salaries of all state officers. With MPs threatening to disband it, the SRC has stuck to its guns.
On Monday the commission said it will not increase the salary even with threats and intimidation. Sarah Serem, SRC’s chairperson said the commission’s concern was how to reduce the wage bill so that the savings can be used for development work. She said Kenya's total revenue was $11.8 billion, but the country spends $5.7 billion on salaries.
“This amount is not only huge, but it is unaffordable and unsustainable. It stands in the way of the country’s development agenda,” Ms. Serem told a news conference in Nairobi.