The average monthly benefits offered to Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) have for the first time crossed the Sh500,000 mark, underlining the taxpayer’s burden of keeping the ward representatives comfortable.
Data from the Controller of Budget shows that MCAs’ average salary, allowances and benefits rose to Sh547,146 in the year to June, up from Sh451,827 in a similar period a year earlier – reflecting a 21 percent increase.
The average cost of keeping a ward representative in office gives taxpayers a better measure of the price of keeping all the 2,243 MCAs at work in the 47 counties and explains why the job is the most sought after position in Kenyan politics.
Nationally, Narok ward representatives received the highest benefits with each MCA costing the county an average of Sh765,635 a month, up from Sh328,757 a year earlier, ahead of Taita Taveta (Sh722,292) and Machakos (Sh719,867).
The average cost is based on the MCAs’ monthly salary, mileage allowance, airtime perks, per diems and expenses linked to their local and foreign travel.
Least paid were Bungoma MCAs with an average benefit of Sh270,005 a month, trailing their Narok counterparts three times.
Mombasa ward representatives at Sh289,058 and Nairobi (Sh337,567) were among the lowest ranking, which is an irony given that the wealthy capital city trailed its counterpart in Turkana, which is ranked as one of the poorest counties but which offered its MCAs Sh609,159 monthly on average.
“High expenditure on non-core activity is contrary to the requirement of Article 201 of the Constitution, which requires public money be used in a prudent and responsible way,” said the Controller of Budget.
“Travelling should be rationalised in order to free funds for implementation of key development programmes”.
The 21 percent increase in MCA benefits came after the High Court scrapped the Salaries and Remuneration Commission’s (SRC) cut on State officers’ benefits.
MCAs are entitled to a monthly salary of Sh165,000, Sh5,000 for airtime, sitting allowance of Sh5,000 per session, monthly mileage allowance of Sh39,800 for intra county travel, as well as per diems for local and foreign trips.
The SRC had in July 2017 cut the monthly pay of MCAs to Sh144,375, abolished the monthly mileage and sitting allowances and lowered per diem rates, drawing protests from the MCAs.
However, the High Court last year reinstated the benefits, forcing the SRC to increase the cap on sitting allowances and return of MCAs’ travel perks.
While reinstating the perks, Justice George Odunga found that the SRC had failed to study the labour market and conduct a compressive job evaluation one year before the pay review as the law demands.
In the period under review, sitting allowance paid to the 2,243 MCAs increased by 52.4 percent or by Sh760 million from the Sh1.4 billion spent the previous year. Spending on domestic travel or reimbursement of MCAs’ mileage claims rose by 28 percent to Sh5.2 billion in the year to June.
Foreign travel, which MCAs call benchmarking trips, rose by a staggering 76.4 percent to Sh1.2 billion from the Sh682 million that the ward reps had spent on foreign trips in the year to June 2018.
The data on average benefits paid to MCAs shows that some of Kenya’s poorest counties in terms of their contribution to the country’s wealth or Gross Domestic Product also had disproportionately high average perks for MCAs.
Isiolo, Taita Taveta, Lamu and Tharaka-Nithi were among counties that offered juicy benefits to MCAs despite appearing in the list of counties that generated the least wealth to the country.
Isiolo’s share of GDP was the smallest at 0.2 percent, yet it ranked ninth among the 47 counties on MCA’s benefits. It paid a benefit of Sh651,894 monthly on average to its MCAs. Lamu was ranked fifth on the benefits scale although it was number 45 on its contribution to Kenya’s GDP.
It remains to be seen if counties will adopt austerity measures that the National Treasury announced last month that included a reduction in foreign trips, local travel and out of town meetings fashioned as trainings.
Acting Treasury Secretary Ukur Yatani said all non-core expenditure would be reviewed to ensure the government can make savings and fund its programmes without relying too much on debt.
Mr Yatani singled out overseas trips by State officials — which often involve lavish travel allowances — advertising by government departments, travel and seminars as examples of wasteful spending.