Infamous for their expensive 4x4 trucks and Mercedes-Benz cars, Kenya's MPs infuriated the public by approving a 40% increase in car allowances.

They then took a three-week break.

Already among the best-paid legislators in the world, the deal gives Kenyan MPs at least $4,700 a month for car mileage.

The vote came just before Kenya started hosting the Inter-Parliamentary Union's annual meeting this week, a gathering of legislators from all over the world.

After the public outcry, two MPs urged the press not to embarrass them by airing Kenya's "dirty laundry" during the meeting.
   
Astronomical salaries

A statement by 32 civil society groups said: "The Ninth Parliament has distinguished itself in passing in record time any bill whose effect is to fill the pockets, handbags and bank accounts of its members and taking as many days off duty as possible."

Kenyan MPS are infamous for
their expensive vehicles

The MPs' first act after being elected was to quadruple their salaries.

Their working week is just two days in total, and for only 28 weeks a year.

The car benefit, which MPs said was to offset higher fuel and maintenance costs suffered by all Kenyans, was passed after they threatened to block a vote on a budget, including extra money for victims of Kenya's worst drought in years.

The 222 MPs will now receive 960 shillings ($13.50) a kilometre for their cars, plus other perks.

The statement said: "Kenyans cannot and will not continue to sustain a parliament which pays itself astronomical salaries while the ordinary citizen cannot afford one square meal a day."

In-fighting

The government of Mwai Kibaki, the president, swept to power in December 2002 on promises to eradicate corruption, but Western donors have urged Kenya to be tougher in fighting graft.

"The Ninth Parliament has distinguished itself in passing in record time any bill whose effect is to fill the pockets, handbags and bank accounts of its members and taking as many days off duty as possible"

Statement by civil society groups

Last year, parliament passed only seven of 25 bills presented to it, owing mostly to in-fighting and because it was a rare day when the required quorum of 30 MPs attended the house.

Legislators attending the global meeting in Nairobi, had mixed reactions to the increased allowance.

Meeraijaz Jaichkani, an MP from Pakistan, said: "Being a politician is a full-time job, so if they do not get good salaries then things like corruption keep coming up."

One MP from Norway suggested that Kenya form an independent committee to oversee matters of remuneration.

Magnhild Kleppa said: "In Norway we have an independent committee outside parliament [to look into issues of remuneration]. We feel confident with a committee like this."