Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced a courageous fiscal policy decision which would see him and his deputy, William Ruto, take a 20 percent pay cut “with immediate effect”. The cuts meant that his monthly salary would be reduced to 989,600 Kenyan shillings, and Ruto’s lowered to 841,500 shillings. Ministers, on their own part, were ordered to take a 10 percent salary slash.
Besides, the President limited overseas trips by government officials to “only the most essential”. According to Kenyan daily newspaper, the Standard, the combined spending cuts would save for the government some 5.5 million shillings a year. Kenyatta hoped to persuade parliamentarians also to accept income cuts, the second in as many years. Last year, the MPs agreed to a 40-percent salary cut, bringing their monthly pay checks down to around 532,000 shillings ($6,100 or 4,400 Euros), still one of the highest in the world and source of disaffection among ordinary Kenyans. Explaining his decisions in a speech on March 8, Kenyatta said, “Wastage in my government will be significantly reduced…We are spending 400 billion shillings ($4.6 billion or 3.3 billion Euros) every year paying salaries; it leaves us only, from our own resources, a figure of 200 billion shillings to transform Kenya. This is a ratio which is not sustainable. We need to deal with this monster if we are to develop this nation.”
Some will say that a 20 % pay cut means nothing to a president whose family is reputed to be one of the richest in Kenya. Even so, the symbolic significance of the decision must not be missed. It shows leadership by example. Again, on a continent where leaders are not contented with their official incomes but also steal from state coffers, Kenyatta is a refreshing example. But more seriously, it is scandalous to spend two-thirds of your annual earnings on paying salaries of government officials alone. It is more so when we consider that Kenya’s economy is driven by mostly aids from the developed world, especially the European Union, which time and again has threatened a cutback due to internal pressure.
It is welcoming that Kenyatta’s decision has gone without a whimper of protest from his ministers or the parliamentarians. This is in sharp contrast to the Nigerian case, where selfishness of government officials is the order of the day. Nigerian lawmakers will readily legislate for hefty salaries for themselves, but refuse to approve a pay rise for public service workers. Four years ago, former CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now the Emir of Kano and rechristened Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, alerted the nation to the fact that only 469 (360 representatives and 109 senators) federal legislators accounted for over 25 percent of the annual federal budget. The lawmakers called him names, almost ruing approving his appointment.
We commend the Kenyatta example to other African heads of state, particularly those whose nations are foreign aid dependent. A little pruning of public spending, especially the emoluments of government officials will save substantial money for much needed social and physical infrastructure. The huge bureaucracies that have emerged on the continent in the name of democratic structure have made governance painfully expensive. Small government is the in-thing now the world over. Africa should embrace it.