- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya Members of the Kenyan Parliament stand to collect a hefty reward if they support President Daniel arap Moi's proposal to postpone this year's elections a 930 percent rise in basic pay that, with added benefits, could make them among the world's highest-paid legislators.

In a country with its economy in tatters and with 58 percent of the population earning less than $1 a day, from next month Kenyan legislators will be able to earn up to $107,000 a year in salaries and benefits alone.

With allowances added, that figure will rise to more than $144,000 just $6,000 less than a member of the U.S. Congress earns and twice the gross salary of a British lawmaker according to Joe Donde, a legislator from the Forum for Restoration of Democracy party and finance spokesman for the opposition.

The basic salaries of lawmakers will be increased from $89 a month to $828, while their overall package, including travel, entertainment, housing and other allowances, will climb from up to $86,500 today to as much as $144,500 from July 1 a 67 percent increase.

The increment is being seen as part of a controversial plan by Mr. Moi's government to postpone general elections scheduled for December by up to 12 months. Under Kenya's constitution, the president must retire at the next elections after 24 years as one of Africa's most autocratic leaders. From 1978 to 1992 he presided over a brutal one-party regime and was forced into democracy by a groundswell of opposition from within Kenya and from the post-Cold War West.

While Mr. Moi's ruling party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), nearly holds the two-thirds majority in Parliament necessary to legalize a delay in the elections, the pay raise is being seen as an inducement to make sure potential rebels stay on his side. As many as 60 percent of legislators traditionally lose their seats in Kenyan elections. A delay in elections will allow them to retain their seats for an extra year and pick up a fat paycheck.

"This is an absolute scandal," Mr. Donde said. "Obviously [members of Parliament] want to earn this sort of money for another year. It is a great inducement to vote to extend the life of Parliament. It has put us on a collision course with the country."

The revelations are likely to infuriate Kenyans who are experiencing their worst financial crisis ever. The country's net economy is shrinking and hundreds of thousands of people are falling below the absolute poverty line every year.

There will be further anger at how the pay raises were introduced. There was no mention about them when the budget was read on June 15. They were hidden deep inside the government's 2,000-page expenditure estimates for the new financial year that were released the previous day.

The ruling party has been openly considering a postponement for several months, maintaining that a body appointed by the government to review the constitution would not have completed its task before the elections. The opposition says the real reason is that the president wants to celebrate his silver jubilee in office in October next year.

Many legislators heftily augment their salaries through corrupt deals and extortion rackets. Appalled by rampant graft and mismanagement, donor countries have suspended financial assistance to Kenya.

Although the United States has not cut any bilateral funding, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have frozen key lending packages until a raft of conditions are met.

Kenya received $40.1 million in direct development assistance and child health programs from the United States in fiscal 2002. The United States and Britain have warned they will not "sit quietly" if the elections are postponed.

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