Ever since Rwanda joined the East African Community, one of the favourite buzzwords has been ‘integration’. A word used to describe this country’s efforts to conform to the best practices already in use in the original three members of the Community – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
There is not much to disagree with when it comes to most measures to integrate [save for the proposals to unnecessarily switch driving in Rwanda to the left lane].
The Chronicles, a local newspaper, reported that Deputies from the Parliament’s Lower Chambers wanted a 56 percent pay rise because, among other reasons, they were being paid peanuts in comparison with their counterparts in East Africa.
Even in the Democratic Republic of Congo, parliamentarians get paid more than four times what a Rwandan Deputy earns per month.
Now, given that inflation driven by high food and fuel prices characterised most of 2011, demands for a pay rise are not unreasonable. Our Deputies’ bills, like everyone else’s, have risen throughout the year. My disagreement came with the rationale, as reported, for the pay rise as well as the amount they were asking for.
The article reported that the Deputies felt that their pay was not reflective of their ‘status’ and that it compared unfavourably to what Parliamentarians receive in our region. Only Burundian parliamentarians get paid less.
An unnamed Deputy went on to describe the pay as ‘urusenda’ [literally means ‘chilli pepper’, a colloquial term for a small payment]. As a taxpayer and a voter, it’s disappointing that my elected representatives seem to have developed a sense of entitlement during their tenure at the Parliament.
I do not know of anyone who looks for grandeur in their legislative representatives especially if that grandeur is attained at the cost of taxpayer francs.
Additionally as representatives of the people, their welfare should have some relation to that of the people they represent. How many people received pay bumps of over 50 percent last year despite the inflationary pressure?
As to the comparative argument, without naming any names, parliamentarians in some of these countries win their elections through bribing of voters.
This means that once they have secured their seats at the parliament, many parliamentarians then have to recover their ‘investment’ and quite often the issue of a pay rise is among the first matters to be discussed in a newly seated parliament.
This is not one of the better practices that Rwanda needs to integrate into its political system and while the Deputies may only have been making comparisons with the actual pay received by their counterparts, and not the political/financial calculations behind them, the comparative argument does more harm to their case than good.
There’s also the question of whether the country can afford a 56 percent pay rise [the article mentioned that some Deputies were actually asking for a 100 percent bump]. One man’s ‘urusenda’ is larger than another man’s aggregate annual salary.
Rwanda is a nation where a primary teacher may earn as little as Rwf30,000 per month and is expected to provide a solid foundation for further education of this country’s children. And, recently some university students were asked to painfully sacrifice their monthly Rwf25,000 stipend so as to enable the government to re-allocate resources to other areas within the education sector, including funding the 12-year basic education programme. In this environment, it’s more than a little callous to describe Rwf1.23 million as ‘urusenda’.
The Deputies may have been aware of this and how politically embarrassing their demands would be because they chose to hold discussions on their pay rise in a closed meeting at a retreat. Even the reporting on this matter has been minimal.
While the people’s representatives should be paid an amount that reasonably covers their expenditures and the inflation of 2011 means that they should get some sort of pay rise, the arguments put forth, the amounts demanded and the manner in which they went about it all does not do them any credit.