NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyan members of parliament voted Tuesday to overturn a directive that had reduced their pay, hoping it will force the government to pay the higher salaries earned by legislators in the previous parliament.
The legislators' pay was slashed from $126,000 to $78,000 earlier this year by a government commission which said the country's wage bill was too high.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission had also argued that although Kenya was among the world's poorer economies its legislators were earning more than French legislators.
Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 which intended to remove the parliamentarians' powers to set their own pay, instead giving the remuneration commission power to determine pay for all public servants, including the president.
Earlier this year, the commission cut the president's annual pay from around $340,000 to $185,000.
The minimum wage in Nairobi is about $1,500 a year but many here live on even less.
But the parliamentarians got around the commission's cuts by voting to overrule the pay cut.
In a well-attended session of parliament Tuesday the MPs unanimously voted to remove the directive reducing their salaries and then many walked out following the vote, even though there were other important reports and motions to be discussed.
Eric Mutua, the chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, said his organization will challenge the legislators' attempts to disregard the commission's directive in court.
Mutua is seeking directives from the court on whether parliament has the power to overturn the directive by the salaries commission.
Mutua said that the new constitution prevents parliamentarians from passing legislation which affects their own interests.
He said even though parliament had voted to remove the directive it did mean the government was obliged to pay them their previous salaries.
Many Kenyans see their legislators as lazy and greedy in a country where hundreds of thousands live in slums. Legislators often argue that they need high salaries to give hand-outs to poor constituents for school fees and hospital bills.
The efforts by the members of parliament to raise their salaries have sparked public protests including one earlier this month in which pigs were released outside the main entrance of parliament to signify the parliamentarians' greed. Nearly three dozen piglets were released and animal blood spilled earlier this month at an entrance to Kenya's parliament as civil society activists protested what they called parliament's greedy salary demands.
About 250 people carrying placards and banners marched through Nairobi's city center and staged a sit-in at the legislators' entrance to parliament.
"Don't like the pay? Quit!" one of the placards read. Demonstrators repeatedly shouted "thieves."
The decision to reduce the pay for legislators came after a public outcry as the previous parliament whose term ended in January, attempted to raise their salaries to $175,000 annually and award themselves a $110,000 bonus at the end of their terms.
The salaries commission says Kenya can't afford the bill for government salaries, especially since the country elected 47 new governors and 67 new senators in March. The parliament expanded from 222 to 349 members.
When newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta opened parliament mid-April he told legislators that the bill for government salaries came to 12 percent of GDP, above the internationally accepted level of 7 percent. Kenyatta said 50 percent of revenue collected by government went to pay government salaries.
Kenyatta recently urged the MPs to grow the economy before they demand salary hikes.