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Economy

Okiya Omtatah moves to court over MPs’ salary dispute

  Activist Okiya Omtatah (right) with his lawyer at a city court. FILE
Activist Okiya Omtatah (right) with his lawyer at a city court. FILE  Nation Media Group

An activist is urgently seeking the intervention of the courts to stop Parliament from paying members inflated salaries that have been fiercely opposed by the public.

Okiya Omtatah made an urgent application to the High Court on Wednesday, seeking orders restraining the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) from paying the MPs anything above the Sh532,500 set by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission until the case is determined.

Justice David Majanja directed the petitioner to serve and return to court on Friday for hearing of the application. Mr Omtatah had earlier filed the case challenging the move by MPs to disband the SRC, a course they have since abandoned in the face of public pressure.

“That an interim conservatory order be issued to compel PSC, to pay Members of the 11th Parliament the salaries and allowances that the SRC published in Gazette Notice No. 2886, pending the hearing and determination of the Petition herein inter partes,” says Mr Omtatah in his application.

The application came as SRC chairman Sarah Serem warned National Assembly Clerk Justin Bundi and Senate Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye they would be held responsible for “abuse of office and aiding the misuse of public funds” if they paid MPs more than what was prescribed in the March 1 Kenya Gazette notice.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta later in the evening asked Parliament to engage SRC constructively with a view to resolving the matter, saying the government would lead from the front.

“For the avoidance of doubt, all State officers in the Executive will continue to abide by the determination of SRC,” the statement from the Presidential Press Service read.

The clerks were on Tuesday left in a quandary after MPs quashed the four legal notices, setting the salaries of public officers. The MPs on Tuesday made a unanimous resolution to revoke the Legal Notice of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, which set their monthly pay at Sh532,500.

The vote, which was taken at the end of debate on a report by the Committee on Delegated Legislation, also revoked the legal notices that set the salaries of county assembly members at Sh79,000 for Members of County Assembly.

MPs, whose salary is the same as that of senators, want to be paid the Sh851,000 per month salary that members of the Ninth and 10th Parliaments received.

Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo had asked the clerks to ensure that the higher salaries were processed from Tuesday when the Legal Notice were quashed. He said they should be paid the money under the National Assembly and Remuneration Act.

On Tuesday, the Law Society of Kenya also threatened to seek a constitutional interpretation on whether MPs had powers to interpret laws as their quashing of Mrs Serem’s orders implied.

In his application, Mr Omtatah says that MPs’ revocation of the notices should be reversed because the legislators have no capacity to declare the conduct of a constitutional commission unconstitutional.

“By purporting to revoke the legal notices published in the Kenya Gazette, the MPs violated the Constitution of Kenya and encroached on the very clear mandate of the Judiciary,” the application reads.

The Constitution vests power to interpret any law with the Judiciary, he says, and the legislators should have moved to the Industrial Court for redress or High Court for interpretation.

“Even if Members of Parliament are unhappy with the remuneration and benefits as set by the SRC in exercise of its constitutional mandate, they should not take the law into their own hands,” he says.

He asked the court to direct PSC to pay MPs their dues as set by the SRC. The MPs have declined to take the salaries until the dispute is resolved while county ward representatives have boycotted sittings even after SRC revised their gross monthly pay from Sh79,000 to Sh149,000.

Mr Omtatah says continued delays in paying MPs their salaries opens a window for them to earn the salary backdated to March based on Sh851,000 per month.

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