MPs on Tuesday opened a new avenue to make more money from tax payers — by being appointed to at least two House committees — even after the Salaries and Remuneration Committee massively cut their perks.
The step marked a breakthrough for the National Assembly to begin its work, including the possible formation of a committee to vet nominee Cabinet secretaries, three months after MPs were elected.
The MPs started the process of amending House rules to increase the size of House committees to allow each of the 349 lawmakers to be appointed to at least two committees, with Jubilee Party and the opposition National Super Alliance working together on that.
They approved the membership of the Committee on Selection and the Procedure and House Rules Committee.
The House Rules Committee will meet on Wednesday and the Committee on Selection on Friday.
Majority Leader Aden Duale said the first order of business at the House Rules Committee will be the change of the Standing Orders to increase the size of departmental and select committees.
“We have looked at the numbers and we have realised that we have some gaps, and that is why these members will receive our concerns, through our Whips, on where we want the Standing Orders amended and every member of our House, the 349, can be in two committees — one departmental and one select, comfortably,” said Mr Duale.
Under the House rules changed in June, the size of departmental committees was set at 17, down from the 29 in the 11th Parliament, and the 27 in the two watchdog committees.
Minority Leader John Mbadi said: “The numbers we have are too restrictive. With 349 members in this House, we need a member to be in at least two committees.”
He told the Nation he will propose that the departmental and the Public Investments and Public Accounts committees be increased to 19 members. Other committees will increase to 23 members each.
Speaker Justin Muturi agreed and asked members of the House Rules Committee to meet at 11am on Thursday.
“Hopefully, the leadership will then have presented in writing the proposals so that the committee looks at the size of the House and considers those proposals,” said Mr Muturi, who backed the suggestion to increase the size.
The catch in the increased numbers is that MPs will earn Sh5,000 per sitting in each of the two committees and the frequency of the sessions is high because under the presidential system of government, majority of legislative work is carried out in committees. Chairpersons of the committees play a key role in the House’s oversight team, wielding powers almost equivalent to ministers. “Committees are the engine of any Parliament. Parliament at committee is Parliament at work and Parliament in plenary session is Parliament on exhibition,” Mr Muturi said.
The SRC, chaired by Ms Sarah Serem and whose term ended on Tuesday, radically reduced MPs’ salaries from Sh710,00 a month last July to Sh621,000.
The SRC also invaded MPs avenues of raking in perks, abolishing sitting allowances of Sh5,000 per session in the chamber and restricted travelling allowances under a new zoning criteria which will see them earn from Sh266,000 a month.
“We have five zones with various levels of kilometres, for instance, up to 750km will get a monthly Sh266,633, up to 1,000km to and fro will receive Sh355,550 and up to 1,250km will get 444,438,” the SRC said.
MPs also lost their car grant of Sh5 million and will instead be entitled to a Sh7 million car loan in addition to Sh20 million mortgage.
The salary of the highest-earning officers, the Speaker of both the National Assembly and the Senate, was slashed to Sh1,155,000 from Sh1,320,000.
Tuesday’s move reflects what MPs promised to do — to find ways of increasing their pay outside the new SRC salary structure whose implementation begins with this Parliament.
In laying ground for the National Assembly to start its work, the opposition MPs could have given their Jubilee counterparts an opportunity to form the Committee on Appointments to vet nominee CSs and principal secretaries to pave way for President Kenyatta to name his Cabinet.
The opposition has already indicated its unwillingness to nominate MPs to the Committee on Appointments, with Minority Leader John Mbadi saying in a letter to the leadership that in the opposition’s view, the presidency is vacant and there is, therefore, nobody to appoint CSs.
As per the Standing Orders, the bulk of the membership of the Committee on Appointments is nominated by the House Business Committee on the basis of proportional party strength in the House.
The interests of independent MPs should also be considered in the nominations.
It has the Speaker as the chairman and the Deputy Speaker, the Majority and Minority Leaders and their deputies plus a maximum of 22 other MPs as members. The Standing Orders state that: “The quorum of the Committee on Appointments shall be one half of the Members of the Committee, but the Speaker shall not be counted for the purposes of quorum and shall not vote.”
With the opposition keeping off, this would mean that the majority party can name its members to the committee, plus independents, and meetings can still happen even in the absence of the Nasa MPs.
There are reports that President Uhuru Kenyatta could submit the names of his Cabinet nominees to the National Assembly this week for vetting.
Top government sources indicate that the President and his deputy William Ruto want to make the Cabinet appointments in January next year.
All current CSs, including those who are likely to be re-appointed, have already been asked to prepare hand-over reports.
The committee on appointments can function with at least 15 members, made up of Jubilee MPs, Speaker Muturi, his deputy Moses Cheboi, Mr Duale, his deputy Jimmy Angwenyi and the independents they would co-opt.
Jubilee would, however, have the hard task of forcing the approval of the Cabinet secretaries through the House as the opposition will no doubt attempt to stop it on the basis that they do not recognise Mr Kenyatta as president.
On Tuesday, Mr Duale said there was an urgent need for the House to have committees fully in place before the Christmas recess.
“By Wednesday next week, we should have all committees in place, plus their chairpersons,’’ he said.