Sunday, August 25, 2013

VIP PENSION PROPOSAL RIDICULOUS

In 2010, Jerry Rawlings's residence in Accra was destroyed by fire leaving the former president of Ghana homeless. Because he did not have another house in the city, he moved to his village, while his wife Nana Konadu, hunkered down with her mother in the capital. Desperate and dependent only on his meager military pension, Rawlings made a public appeal to the government for a place to stay. It took almost a year before he was allocated a house.

We do not want to see our leaders in Kenya live like tramps, or, be subjected to humiliation like what Rawlings went through once they leave office, but the pension figures suggested by some MPs to reward our former leaders are ridiculous. A proposal being readied for debate in Parliament wants the exchequer to pay 485 million shillings every year to our ex-leaders as pension. The ex-prime minister and former vice president will, for example, get 87 million shillings each year, equivalent to one million US dollars. The amount does not include additional perks such as vehicles and security.

Kenya is a poor country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of only 37 billion US dollars.The United States, the richest country in the world with a GDP of 15,700 billion US dollars, pays its former presidents only 190,000 dollars per year. Britain, whose GDP is sixty times that of Kenya at 2,440 US dollars, pays its former prime ministers a mere 125,000 US dollars per year. Now, isn't it surprising that a country that perennially begs for money and food from the US and Britain should be the one to spend taxpayers' money so lavishly?

I want to submit that our leaders are not poor. They are very wealthy even by international standards. Both Raila and Kalonzo have luxurious villas in Nairobi and in their rural villages. Both have incomes coming in from businesses and farms,. They are not like the majority of Kenyans who survive on a hands-to-mouth circle of poverty. It is most unlikely our leaders would ever be homeless.

That is the reason why I say they do not deserve - and should not be paid - the millions being proposed by a fanatical member of ODM. And this should apply to all our leaders, past and present.

Already presidents Moi and Kibaki are enjoying perks that will make many countries quiver in astonishment. Recently, someone even suggested that we spend a cool 50 million shillings to build a monument for Kibaki and another 700 million for an office complex. A government corporation in the energy sector offered to build a petrol station for Kibaki as a going away present, while another wanted to give him four fish ponds. I don't want to believe we Kenyans are nuts, but when carried by euphoria of the day, we seem to go bananas.

Members of parliament who support the proposal for exorbitant rewards for our leaders must look at their own constituencies first. Do they have decent schools? Do pupils have enough desks and books? How about their hospitals and dispensaries: are they adequate and do they have qualified personnel to man them? How about the conditions of their roads? Do they have piped water and electricity supplies? I dont even want to talk about libraries and recreational centres that are so important for our young people.

I do not want to under-estimate the sacrifices our leaders have made to our country. They served with commitment and dedication but they did not work for free. They were collecting fat salaries every month, enjoyed free security, free transport and free junkets. If there is anything we can do, it is to give them a one-time - not yearly disbursements - token payment, and that token should be based on the ability of the country to pay.

With domestic and foreign debts running into trillions of shillings, with a wage bill now almost 13 percent of the GDP, with teachers, doctors, nurses and other public workers clamouring for salary increases, and with 40 million people to feed, treat and and educate, we cannot afford this kind of wastefulness.

When in 2009, legislators in Ghana proposed a 650,000 US dollars gratuity for Rawlings, two mansions, six chauffeur-driven cars and a 65-day overseas vacation, he turned the package down and told the MPs to "get lost." His view was that such huge payments would impoverish the country.

That is why I salute deputy president William Ruto for coming out openly to reject the proposed pension scheme. I want other leaders to come out and take a similar stand. At the same time, I urge parliament to reject the proposed bill in its present form.

And that is my say.