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Economy

Kenyans to pay Sh2bn price for shunning women MCAs

Voters at Kihumbuini polling station in Kangemi, Westlands constituency on August 8, 2017. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NMG
Voters at Kihumbuini polling station in Kangemi, Westlands constituency on August 8, 2017. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NMG  

Taxpayers are once again facing the prospect of bearing an extra wage bill burden arising from the voters’ decision not to elect enough women to county assemblies during last week’s election.

An extra 619 female members of the county assemblies (MCAs) will have to be nominated across Kenya as none of the 47 counties attained the gender ratio set in the Constitution.

That will require taxpayers to fork out an extra Sh2.19 billion annually towards the salaries and allowances of additional MCAs who must be nominated to meet the constitutional threshold of at least one third of members to be either men or women.

A paltry 96 women were elected to the county assemblies from the1,450 wards, according to the National Gender and Equality Commission.

A dozen counties, namely Embu, Garissa, Isiolo, Kajiado, Kirinyaga, Mandera, Narok, Samburu, Taita Taveta, Turkana, Wajir, and West Pokot, did not elect a single woman to the local assemblies and will have to nominate at least 10 women each to meet the legal threshold.

Winfred Lichuma, the chairperson of the gender commission, decried the high price of nominating additional members to meet the gender requirement, saying had Kenyans elected enough women at the ballot, the cash would have been channelled to financing other pressing needs.

“We still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity in political representation. It is evident none of the 47 county assemblies will meet the constitutional threshold of not more than two thirds gender ratio composition,” Ms Lichuma said.

In the outgoing county assemblies, taxpayers paid additional cost of nominating 680 women after only 84 women reps were elected.

In total, taxpayers will pay Sh10.98 billion to remunerate occupants of the special gender seats for the entire five-year term.

Constitutional requirement

Unlike the ambiguity with regard to Kenya’s bicameral Parliament, the Constitution expressly provides that county legislatures must nominate extra women to meet the gender requirement.

“A county assembly consists of the number of special seat members necessary to ensure that no more than two thirds of the membership of the assembly is of the same gender,” States Article 177(1b) of the Constitution.

The gross take-home for county assembly members stands at about Sh295,742 per month, including a string of stipends to cover transport, mobile phone airtime and sitting allowances.

Ward representatives earn a monthly basic pay of Sh144,375, according to newly-gazetted pay schedule by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).

The SRC has capped committee sessions to 16 per month, meaning an MCA can draw a maximum of Sh48,000 per month in sitting allowances at the rate of Sh3,000 per sitting.

Those who chair such committees earn Sh5,000 per session, capped at Sh80,000 monthly.  

MCAs are also entitled to a transport allowance based on the distance they cover to visit their wards – with county assembly headquarters acting as point zero.

Those covering a return journey of between 200 and 400km will pocket Sh98,367 monthly and an airtime allowance of Sh5,000 per month.

Scheaffer Okore, a programme officer at Siasa Place, said the additional gender cost should serve as a lesson for voters to be more inclusive at the ballot.

“It’s like it must always cost us a lot to do the right thing — in this case having more women representation, which is already a legal right and requirement,” said Ms Okore.

The cost of keeping these gender top-up ward representatives in office will be higher if benefits such as medical cover for family and spouses, personal accident covers, cheap car loans, and low-cost mortgages are factored in.

MCAs get a car loan of Sh2 million and a mortgage of Sh3 million, both charged at a concessional interest rate of three per cent.

At the end of their five-year term, they will also receive gratuity calculated at 31 per cent of their basic pay, which amounts to Sh2.6 million each.

Ms Lichuma warned that Kenyans may be staring at another gender wage bill given voters failed to elect enough women legislators to Parliament last week, which means any citizen can petition the High Court to declare the House unconstitutional.

The incoming bicameral Parliament only has 73 elected MPs — 70 at the National Assembly and only three at Senate.

“The prospect of plunging into an unprecedented constitutional crisis now looms closer. There is no framework to ensure compliance with the not more than two thirds gender principle and the country should brace itself for dire consequences,” Ms Lichuma warned.

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