Kenyan members of parliament, already among the world’s best-paid legislators, have voted to increase their salaries.
The legislators passed the vote on Monday, increasing their pay to more than 130 times the minimum wage in defiance of government plans to reduce them as part of spending reforms.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who won a closely fought March 4 election on an economic-growth agenda, has urged MPs to accept pay cuts and help rein in public-sector salaries to free up cash to create jobs.
Many Kenyans view members of parliament as symbols of a greedy political culture, and they recently held a protest in the capital Nairobi, unleashing pigs on the premises of parliament to demonstrate their oposition to the pay raise.
Holding public office is seen as an opportunity for personal gain at the expense of a country mired in poverty and where the unemployment rate stands at 40 percent.
In Monday’s vote, legislators on both sides of the house overwhelmingly pushed for higher pay.
“They have taken away our dignity and we must reclaim it,” Jimmy Angwenyi, a member of parliament, told the assembly, backing a motion to overturn a legal notice cutting their pay and to increase it to an average of $10,000 a month, up from $6,233.
The average monthly wage in Kenya is $76.
The president has no direct power to determine MPs’ salaries, and their decision is expected to be challenged in court by civic rights groups.
The MPs’ move to overturn a reduction in their pay decided by the state Salaries and Remuneration Commission before the election has caused anger that has led to street protests.
But legislators said the pay cut was imposed illegally. They argued they needed high wages because constituents expected them to provide charitable support. Some also said that MPs could be vulnerable to bribes if their salaries were set too low.
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) said it would go to court seeking to challenge whether the MPs can set the new salaries.
“The supreme law (Constitution) ended the era when elected leaders could use their muscle to illegally determine their remuneration,” Eric Mutua, LSK chairman, said in a statement.
Kenyans are worried that by increasing their pay, the legislators could provoke demands for higher wages from local officials in the country’s newly-demarcated counties, as well as teachers, police and doctors.