Somebody should tell the teachers off for me. In 1997, they accepted a political pay hike after calling a wildcat strike some two months to the December 1997 General Election.
Then president Daniel Moi was desperate for a final term. In panic, he shelved the Dr Taitta Towett Teachers Remuneration Committee report of July 1997, reached after extensive consultations, and decided (during a Moi Day rally in October 1997) to constitute a political committee to come up with a proposal.
The team was given two days! And this is where this teachers strike becomes inordinate. Actually, Moi owes us an apology for the burden he left the taxpayers with.
In this team were the late Fares Kuindwa, then head of Civil Service, solicitor-general Aaron Ringera, Treasury PS Simeon Lesirma and some others. Within 48 hours they had finished their consultation and were on their way to Moi’s Kabarak home to deliver a report. The date was October 12, 1997.
There was television footage of then Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary- general Ambrose Adongo dancing after the deal. Moi thought he had duped the teachers with a sweet deal.
The civil servants he had given 48 hours to come up with a deal were too afraid (I guess) to tell the King that he would be naked soon. They gave in to all the teacher’s demands, helped shelve Dr Towett’s report and only they can tell us how they arrived at those figures.
Most likely they just played politics. All what we know is that Moi had no intention of honouring that deal and in July 1998 he faced another strike with the teachers demanding the second phase to be implemented.
Former Democratic Party MP Matu Wamae told Parliament the reason why Kanu government signed the deal: “They needed the teachers and so they thought the teachers should be encouraged, bribed, honoured, coerced, or conned and promised that they were going to get salaries”.
Today, Labour secretary Kazungu Kambi tells us that this particular agreement was not registered in court and is null and void. Perhaps it was not. But this is a skunk we inherited from the Kanu regime. We have to live with it or throw it away; whichever is easier.
Ever since the Kabarak episode, teachers have held the government at ransom and played politics too. When Moi decided to renege on the promise the then Opposition helped them to mock Kanu.
On second thought, we should have listened to the desperation of former Finance minister Simeon Nyachae who was left by Moi to scrap around for money to pay the teachers. Nyachae was candid. “If we have to produce Sh39 billion, then we have to agree to increase VAT by 22 per cent, fuel levy by another Sh60 per litre; we also have to agree to increase other duties...otherwise there is no money.”
But Nyachae did not get his way in Parliament. The Opposition did not want to sympathise with him and used the 1998 teacher’s salaries demands as an avenue to bring down Moi.
Prof Anyang-Nyongo told the House in 1998 that telling teachers to understand the economic implications of their demands “is like telling somebody to go to Timbuktu on a bicycle and come home on a mosquito”.
Then Education minister Kalonzo Musyoka had tried to sweet-talk Mr Adongo to suspend the agreement. Mr Adongo walked out refusing to discuss the teachers strike “even if he were to be summoned by the Almighty God.”
The first phase had cost the government Sh36.6 billion, and the second phase was to cost Sh50 billion and the teachers still believe taxpayers owe them more. But for leaving us with an economic skunk, Moi owes taxpayers an apology.
Mr Kamau is associate editor, Business Daily. Email: [email protected]