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May 2003

Row over Moi’s superannuation

Zachary Ochieng

A row is simmering over the proposed retirement package for presidents, with the immediate former president Daniel arap Moi as the first beneficiary. The president’s retirement is something unprecedented in Kenya as the republic’s first president Jomo Kenyatta died in office and his wife Mama Ngina Kenyatta continues to enjoy his death gratuities.

At the centre of a raging controversy is a generous package unveiled last month by Attorney General Amos Wako in the name of the Retirement Benefits Bill. The Bill, yet to be debated in parliament contains certain conditions which retiring presidents must fulfil in order to qualify for their pension.

Under the Bill, a retired president is entitled to a monthly tax -free pension of US$ 22857 or 80 per cent of the salary of the sitting president. It also offers a former head of state US$ 2857 monthly fuel allowance, US$ 2857, US$ 2857 monthly entertainment allowance, US$ 2857 for housing in an urban setting, 34 employees including six security guards, office space and supplies and four cars – two Mercedes Benz limousines and two four wheel drive vehicles.

But what has generated a lot of heat is the condition accompanying the generous package. Among others, the Bill provides that a retired president can only enjoy the benefits if he or she quits active politics. One can also lose the benefits if one leaves office in disgrace or is jailed for three years or more.

Moi, who is the chairman of the main opposition party Kenya African National Union (KANU), has rejected the Bill, dismissing it as dictatorial and discriminatory, and meant to deny him freedom of assembly and association. In particular, the Bill requires him to step down from his party post.

The controversy reached fever pitch early this month when Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi gave Moi an ultimatum to relinquish his party post or forfeit his benefits. Besides his colleagues in KANU who see malice in the Bill and have vowed to vote it down in parliament, Moi has received support from very unfamiliar quarters – the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), both of which he hated when he was in office as they criticized his government.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission has vowed to fight for Moi’s rights as it would for any other citizen. The organisation’s Executive Director Dr Willy Mutunga says that the National Rainbow Coalition’s (NARC) commitment to human rights would be demonstrated by the way it handled Moi’s pension. Says he: “Pension should not be tied to giving up his constitutional rights. How e treat Moi will be a beacon on how far we have promoted and protected the human rights of the Kenyan citizen”.

While describing the Bill as a gross violation of Moi’s rights, LSK chairman Ahmednassir Abdullahi argues that Moi deserves his retirement benefits regardless of his political activities or statements. “Pension is something you earn for the service you have rendered. You get it after you retire. Moi has retired as the president and therefore deserves his dues. It is only in Africa where people want to limit others in their freedom of expression”, he observes.

Burt while supporting Moi for the stand he has taken, Abdullahi also accuses Moi of being in sincere. “I don’t think Moi was sincere when he turned down the pension. For all the years he has been president, he denied Kenyans that freedom he is now talking about”.

The Catholic Church also added its voice to the chorus of condemnations that greeted the publication of the Bill. Father Stephen Kamau of the Holy Family Basilica criticized the Bill saying, “we have to respect Moi as a citizen and a one time leader of this country. He has participated in politics for a long time and I don’t think it is good to lock him out of it now”.

Murungi, however, denies any interference with Moi’s freedom. He says: “We are not interfering with Moi’s freedom of expression. There are many things he can talk about. He can talk about cows, the economy and start preaching”. He argues that the justification for paying Moi his pension was that he is retired, but if he continues to be in politics, then there would be no reason to claim a pension.

Murungi’s assistant Robinson Githae is even more unequivocal: “We want presidents to work knowing that when they retire, the state will take care of them. This law is not meant for Moi. He just happens to be the first beneficiary”. He adds that Moi is already receiving an ex-gratia payment of US$ 37142 a month, but which KANU nominated MP and Moi’s lawyer Mutula Kilonzo argues is illegal.

Health minister Charity Ngilu, while justifying the Bill urges Moi to step down from the KANU chairmanship. “We are not going to give Moi money to do partisan KANU work. We are not developing the proposal for him. He has billions to take care of himself”.

As debate continues to rage over Moi’s superannuation, one thing is certain, though. The proposal that a retired president quits politics is not unique to Kenya. While still in office, former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba influenced parliament into passing a law that prohibits ex-presidents from enjoying their benefits if they continued engaging in active politics. In March, when the court ruled that he was breaking the law and took away his tax-payer provided cars, house and guards among others, he saw sense and resigned as the leader of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD).

A similar scenario obtains in Ghana, where former president Jerry Rawlings is at loggerheads with his successor John Kuffuor, over Article 68 (2) which bar a former president from engaging in “income generating activities”.

All said and done, it will be sometime before the Kenyan parliament finally passes the Presidential Retirement Bill. An attempt to pass a similar Bill was scuttled last year when Moi himself dissolved parliament before the Bill could be debated.

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