Even before the dust settles on the outrageous Sh250,000 house allowance claimed by each MP, the lawmakers are at it again.
This time around, the MPs and senators, totalling 416, have devised a new scheme to fleece taxpayers by claiming a “night” allowance whenever they are in Nairobi to attend parliamentary sessions.
Dubbed the “Domestic Subsistence Facilitation”, the new scheme entitles each MP to between Sh18,200 and Sh24,000 per night.
Parliamentary business is conducted between Tuesday and Thursday, meaning the MPs and senators can claim the money for four nights — Monday to Thursday. They can claim as much as Sh96,000 each per week and up to Sh384,000 per month in night allowance, notwithstanding the fact that virtually all of them have homes in Nairobi.
And on the days Parliament is not in session between Friday and Monday, the lawmakers are entitled to mileage claims calculated on the basis of the distance between Parliament Buildings and an individual MP’s constituency.
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The new “night” allowance, which has been backdated to last month, comes hot on the heels of the storm caused by the lawmakers’ move to claim Sh250,000 per month in house allowance backdated to October last year, at the taxpayer’s expense.
The “night” allowance will likely trigger a major furore from ordinary Kenyans already burdened by the high cost of living occasioned by the tough economic times.
Sources in the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) confided to the Saturday Nation that MPs had come up with the new allowance as a “safety net” in case the controversial housing allowance is stopped by the courts.
Already, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has gone to court to challenge the housing allowance on the grounds that MPs, being State officers, lack the powers to decide their own remuneration. Such powers, the SRC argues, are vested in the commission.
MPs started collecting the new allowance this week, with Protection House, where Parliament’s accounts offices are located, registering an increase in the number of lawmakers streaming in to fill out the claim forms.
It is still not clear who authorised the allowance and on what basis the MPs are claiming it, since they are normally paid whenever they are out of their work station on parliamentary duties.
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A senior member of the National Assembly, who did not want to go on record for fear of being rebuked by his colleagues, expressed surprise that we knew of the new allowance. “How did you get to know that? That is a very sensitive issue which will dent MPs’ image, you contact (Speaker Justin) Muturi and (Adan) Keynan,” he said.
National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed was equally evasive when contacted over the matter. “You know I’ve not been in Parliament the whole of this week. Let me check then I call you back,” he said.
Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati denied knowledge of the new allowance, saying he was only aware of what they were paid whenever they travelled out of town on parliamentary business. “I don’t know about it, but if it is there, then I will definitely claim it,” Mr Arati said.
Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo, for his part, laughed off our enquiries about the night allowance, instead referring us to PSC, which is chaired by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, with Taveta MP Naomi Shaban as deputy.
“Go and ask our employer (PSC). I have not filled the form,” Mr Odhiambo retorted.
But a first-term MP from northern Kenya boasted that MPs will not stop inventing new ways of making money.
“We will always find a way around things. Allowances are never pegged on any regulations,” the MP told our reporter at the Members’ Lounge on Thursday evening.
READ: MPs on course to get more perks as bill sails through
Contacted for comment, SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich said she did not have any official communication about the allowance and could therefore not comment on it.
“I don’t have any formal confirmation on that and can’t really tell you anything about it,” Ms Mengich said.
But she pointed out that the commission has rates for allowances and it is expected that different institutions will administer it within the right governance procedures.
The MPs kicked off a storm in May when they started pocketing the house allowance despite opposition from the Treasury and SRC.
SRC has since filed a petition seeking to stop further payments of the allowances and the recovery of the money so far paid to the lawmakers.
SRC claims that Parliament misinterpreted the housing benefit extended to the President, Deputy President, Speakers of the National Assembly and Senate, the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, governors and their deputies, and Speakers of county assemblies.
The salaries agency argued that if the House is allowed to continue untamed, it would result in the loss of public funds in excess of Sh99.5 million per month and Sh1.194 billion per year.
In retaliation, the National Assembly last month slashed Sh95 million from the Sh545.3 million allocated to SRC in the 2019/20 financial year.
The slashed budget was mainly for travel, entertainment, hiring professionals and new offices.
Besides the huge allowances, ordinary MPs enjoy one bodyguard seconded to Parliament by the National Police Service Commission while chairpersons of departmental committees are entitled to two bodyguards.
Those in leadership positions, such as majority leader and deputy, majority whip and deputy, majority and minority whips and those in the Speaker’s panel enjoy enhanced security.