Pay rise freeze for Kenyan MPs after public anger

President William Ruto
William Ruto's popularity has plummeted since he took office in 2022 [AFP]

Proposed pay rises for members of Kenya's cabinet and parliament will not happen after President William Ruto ordered a review of the plans following public outcry.

It comes a week after mass protests forced Mr Ruto to drop a controversial finance bill that had included tax hikes.

Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) Chairperson Lyn Mengich said on Wednesday the commission would "freeze" the salary increases for state officers due to "the current realities of the economy".

Initially the SRC had recommended a pay increase of 2% and 5% for all state officials, including judges.

People began questioning how the the salaries of politicians, including governors, could be raised when there was a supposed financial crisis.

The U-turn came after discussions with the National Treasury, said Ms Mengich.

Last year the SRC issued a notice, proposing that the increases take effect from the beginning of this month.

But Public Service Minister Moses Kuria said he would not implement the increases "as applies" to the cabinet.

Mr Ruto abandoned plans to increase taxes after protesters complained they could not afford to pay them as they were already hit by the sharp increase in the cost of living.

Many said the government should first reduce spending, which President Ruto has vowed to do.

Several lawmakers - including Aaron Cheruiyot, a senator from the ruling coalition - have called for parliament to reject the pay increase.

Adan Keynan, an opposition party MP allied with the government, expressed a similar view, saying the proposed increase was "tone-deaf".

And opposition senator Edwin Sifuna said higher salaries could not be justified "when the whole country is saying we need to lessen the taxpayer burden".

On Tuesday, Samuel Njoroge, clerk of the National Assembly, told the People Daily newspaper that the SRC's recommendation could not be overturned as they affected all state officers.

"The changes are normal salary reviews or increments in any organisation," he was quoted as saying.

But Mr Ruto has asked the treasury to review the notice.

"The president has emphasised that this is a time, more than ever before, for the executive and all arms of government to live within their means, " a statement by his spokesman said.

Last week's protests, led by young people, were the biggest in Kenya since Mr Ruto took office in 2022.

The demonstrations have since morphed into calls for his resignation and demands that the security forces face justice over the killing of protesters.

It is estimated by the state-funded rights commission that 39 people have been killed in the demonstrations over the last two weeks.

On Tuesday, the protests appeared to degenerate into anarchy as shops and supermarkets were looted.

Police have published images of 38 people wanted for “engaging in lawlessness”.

Some of the young Kenyans linked to organising the protests alleged that hired "goons" had infiltrated the demonstrations.

They said they were reassessing their strategy and were even thinking of calling off the protests altogether.

Demonstrators, gathering in the city center, make a fire as they march towards the parliament building to protest the 'Finance Bill 2024'
Kenya has been hit by the biggest protests since President Ruto took office [Getty Images]

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