Are Kenyans Over-represented?

Brenda Wambui
17 July ,2018

Before we passed the 2010 constitution, we voted for the president, and members of parliament for our respective constituencies. After 2010, a Kenyan voter now has to elect the president and their deputy (on one ticket), the governor and the senator for their county, the woman representative for their county, the Member of Parliament for their constituency, and the ward representative (also known as the MCA) who sits in the county assembly. The first time this took place was in the March 2013 general election.

Kenyans who voted elected six representatives per person (if we consider the president and deputy as one representative – the presidency). If we had felt under-represented before, this was no longer the case. We have one president (who comes attached to a deputy president), 47 governors (and their 47 deputies), 67 senators (47 elected by counties, 16 nominated by their parties, 2 members representing the youth, and 2 representing persons with disabilities), 349 members of the national assembly (290 constituency representatives, 47 woman representatives, and 12 nominated members of parliament). We also have 2,526 MCAs. That’s 2,990 members (if you count all the deputies, it becomes 3,038). We have 43 million Kenyans. That’s one representative per 14,000+ Kenyans.

This over-representation shows in our public wage bill. In 2014, our public wage bill was 8% of GDP, which in that year was USD 61.4 billion. This increase in our number of representatives reflects in the jump in the wage bill, which was KES 249 billion in 2010, and KES 418 billion in 2014. Much of this jump was caused by the introduction of county governments. The average annual growth rate was 14% between 2010 and 2014, yet the average annual growth rate of GDP was only 5%. Where are we magically getting this money?

Debt.

This is why public borrowing is out of control in Kenya. In 2015, our public debt was USD 32.54 billion, which was 52.8% of our GDP. In 2016, our public debt was USD 38.9 billion, which was 54%. In November 2017, our public debt reached USD 45.8 billion, which was 57% of our GDP. In 2018/19, our debt to GDP ratio is projected to rise to 59%. Each Kenyan owes KES 100,000 worth of national debt to external parties. We borrow to survive. We don’t make enough to live on.

In the year ending June 2015, we spent KES 11.2 billion on Senate and the National Assembly, up from KES 9.2 billion in the year ending June 2014. Each year, as shown here, they have increased their pay. In April 2013, the Speakers (the highest paid Members of Parliament) earned a monthly salary of KES 990,000. In April 2017, they earned KES 1,320,000. Regular members of parliament increased their monthly from KES 532,500 in April 2013 to KES 710,000 in April 2017.

On average, Kenyans spend 55 million shillings per Member of Parliament (both senate and national assembly). This is about 2% of our national budget. For comparison, the global average is 0.57% (this is for countries with a population between 10 and 50 million, which is what we are). That is almost 4 times more. Why do we spend so much? South Korea’s GDP per capita (this is GDP per person per annum) is USD 27,538.81. Japan’s is USD 38,894.47. The USA’s is USD 57,466.79. Ours is USD 1,455.36. Yet, per 1 million people Kenya has 9.18 representatives, while South Korea has 5.9, Japan has 0.4, and the USA has 1.7. Nigeria has 2.6 representatives per million people, Ethiopia has 7.1, India has 0.6, Venezuela has 5.3.

The first resort for most is to suggest the scrapping of quota seats for women, youth, persons with disabilities and other minorities. In many discussions, women representatives are said to be unnecessary, yet this is untrue. The purpose of woman representatives is to increase the representation of women in parliament, in line with the two thirds gender law which requires that no one gender have more than two thirds of elective seats. We still have not met this requirement. Only 19% of the national assembly seats, 27% of senate seats and 6% of county assembly seats are held by women.

Yet, even with these numbers, women representatives have spoken actively about the budget, education, health, security, agriculture, women, youth, water, land and so on. They have sponsored major bills, such as The Victim Protection Bill (Millie Odhiambo), The Access to Information Bill (Priscilla Nyokabi), The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (also by Priscilla Nyokabi) The Kenya Aids Control Authority Act (Rachel Nyamai), The Food Security Bill (Beatrice Elachi), The Reproductive Healthcare Bill (Judith Sijeny), among others.

This translates to 8% of the National Assembly Bills and 18% of the Senate Bills in the last parliament. Quite good for a contingent that only made up 21% of the 2013 parliament. The answer is definitely not to reduce the number of minority representatives in parliament. Having more of these minorities represented can only serve to enrich our society. A discussion on minority representation should not only focus on women representatives, but on all minority representatives, and it is crucial moving forward, especially since we already didn’t meet the August 2016 deadline to have a framework in place to ensure the enactment of the two thirds majority rule.

The solution is clearly not to scrap these positions. It is to have a ratio of legislators to general population that makes sense. In the words of James Madison, “However small the Republic may be, the Representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and however large it may be, they must be divided to certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.” Deciding on an optimal formula is tricky. A parliament with too few representatives won’t be democratic enough, and can lead to an unstable political system. It can also lead to political violence.

Too many representatives lead us to where Kenya is now. There are many social costs, as well as financial costs. They interfere too much with how our markets operate (see our real estate market), increase bureaucracy, and they create many opportunities for rent-seeking activities and corruption. It is important to ensure that the general population is reflected in parliament, but this comes with many direct and indirect costs.

According to our Auditor General, Edward Ouko, we need 290 MPs (both senators and members of the national assembly), not the 416 we have now. That is a 30.28% reduction of MPs. In turn, we would save KES 6.93 billion a year. To show the effect of this under current situations, let’s assume this money would be used to pay for free day-school secondary education for children. Currently, each child has an allocation of KES 12,870 (up from KES 10,625), so the KES 6.93 billion would educate 538,461 secondary school going children each year. Assuming it was used for free primary education, it would also make a huge difference.

In 2014, the government increased FPE allocation per child to KES 1,420 (from KES 1,020) to cater for enrollment of about 10 million children in over 23,000 public primary schools. Annually this costs KES 14 billion. KES 6.93 billion would educate 4,880,281 children each year. Here, we are assuming that we are only reducing the number of MPs. What if we reduce them and reduce their salaries? Each of them currently takes home over KES 1.1 million in salaries and allowances monthly. If we reduced it to what he proposes, which is KES 931,000 per month, we would save even more!

When it comes to MCAs, 1625 are elected and the rest, 1901, are nominated representing the minorities we discussed. We can further reduce the number of wards to reduce the wage bill. Perhaps we can change the smallest unit of governance in the county from the ward to the initial divisions we had back when we had 72 districts. At their most, they were once 262 divisions. Even when we include nominations, the number of county representatives would not be more than 500 given the current ratios. That way, we would come down from 2,526 to 500 county representatives, and from 416 to 290 MPs.

Of course, to do so would require a referendum, but it is necessary. Our government is bloated.

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