When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced he was taking a 20% pay cut, and was followed by his deputy, we expected this to automatic. But the Salaries and Remuneration Commission revealed recently that the law doesn’t allow it to cut the salaries without parliamentary approval. Cabinet secretaries had also pledged to voluntarily reduce their salaries by 10%, while parastatal heads were asked to take a 20% slash. The Judicial Service Commission and the Parliamentary Service Commission should also come up with ways of reducing the salaries of senior civil servants and other public servants.
These efforts are geared at cutting the public wage bill, which shot up from Sh241 billion in 2008/9 to Sh458 billion in 2012/13. This is over 5% of total domestic revenues, which is way above the international best practice of not more than 35% recommended for countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Such pay cuts can save the government quite a lot and perhaps avert massive retrenchments that often target low-salaried employees in public service. Cabinet and Principal Secretaries have already written to the SRC to have their salaries reduced but the law stands in the way of their noble gestures. Parliament must amend the relevant law urgently to facilitate this. And when the law finally comes into effect, the deductions should be backdated to March.
While this salary reduction is plausible, it still falls short of the cut needed to make run the government sustainably. Extending the policy to high earning civil servants and holders of elective posts would make more economic sense. Everyone should play a role in growing this country. We need savings in terms of billions, and not millions, of shillings to make a noticeable impact on the wage bill.
A great and less painful way to manage the government wage bill is to scrap or reduce allowances for government workers. This works in the private sector where most benefits are captured in the monthly salary. Wages need to be rationalised to achieve uniformity in pay schemes. What we have is so haphazard that sometimes you wonder whether these people are working for the same employer. That is why many people are dumping the private sector for public service jobs because of the huge allowances that come with working for the government.