Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Between Sports and Politics: Laughter and Tears | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There is a popular [Arab] saying that goes “whoever holds the pen in their hand will never depict themselves as the villain.” This is something that can be literally applied to the Kenyan members of parliament who during a parliamentary session that lasted no more than 45 minutes voted in favour of a pay rise in their salaries and allowances, which now stands at 1.1 million Kenyan Shilling [KES] per month, equivalent to approximately $12,000 per month. In addition to their fixed salaries, the members of parliament also enacted a clause granting each member of parliament up to $370 per days [in expenses] for attending parliamentary sessions.

It is not surprising that this move caused widespread public anger across Kenya, which was further increased by the Minister of Finance announcing that the government is not in possession of sufficient funds to pay this enormous hike in MP’s salaries, and that the new budget that is set to be presented to parliament for approval this week does not include any provisions to accommodate this increase. During a press conference, the Kenyan Finance Minister also said that he expected a major battle with parliament, especially as the MPs could try to vote against the budget if the government refuses to pass their pay increase. What is even stranger is that during the [Kenyan] parliamentary session, an MP tried to justify this massive pay increase as being a step that will “restore honour to the profession of politics.”

To clarify this laughable but tragic situation, I must point out that the proposed increase will place the salaries of Kenyan MPs among the highest in the world, and that their original salaries – before the proposed increase – were already higher than the salaries of MPs in Britain, France, Italy, Sweden, and Australia to name just a few, while they were close to the salaries of US members of Congress. The law approved by Kenyan MPs also recommended a rise in the salary of the Kenyan Prime Minister, making this a third higher than the salary of the British Prime Minister, and 10 percent more than the salary of the US President. The MPs also approved an increase in the salary of the [Kenyan] President, after previously approving salaries for the wives of the president, vice president, and prime minister “because they encourage family values in the country.” The MPs also approved a bonus for themselves at the end of each parliamentary term that is equivalent to three times their original salary.

This is taking place in a country has been suffering from an acute financial crisis for a number of years; a country whose annual per capita income is around $700 and many of whose inhabitants are living on only $1 per day. This third-world farce is taking place at a time that the government is raising slogans about cracking down on corruption. Kenya is also facing the threat of famine which is something that is threatening all of eastern Africa, and which has prompted the international organizations to sound the alarm and begin to launch campaigns to raise funds to help feed millions of Kenyans who are expected to be exposed to this.

The Kenyan MPs who until now have turned a deaf ear to the public anger and the cynicism in the Kenyan press, believe that they have every right to earn these sums of money because they are exhausting themselves in performing their work and representing the people, however such privileges are in no way related to the people that they claim to represent.

As the FIFA World Cup tournament is now drawing to a close, we can draw a comparison between the actions of the Kenyan MPs and the action of the Uruguay football team who were representing their country’s hopes in an event that has also captured the attention of the world. The Uruguay team players and officials, according to a radio report, decided to place a cap on the bonuses they would receive from their country for reaching the final stages of the FIFA World Cup. It was initially decided that each player would receive a $1,000 bonus for every day that they spent at the World Cup in South Africa; however the players decided that a cap should be placed on their financial bonus so that nobody could receive more than $14,000 even if they managed to make it to the final stages of the tournament that lasts for over a month. More than this, the players decided to allocate a portion of their bonuses to charitable work in their country because they consider representing the country and people of Uruguay to be a “great honour” and they considered this responsibility to be such a source of pride that they decided to waive their financial entitlements.

Uruguay could have afforded to pay their players more than this as they are definitely better off than Kenya, for although Uruguay is a small country with a population of no more than 3,400,000, it possess a stronger economy than that of Kenya. To further facilitate this comparison, we can say that the annual per capita income in Uruguay – which is considered to be one of the most prosperous countries in South America – stands at $12,700, while it has an unemployment rate of just 7 percent in comparison to an unemployment rate of 40 percent in Kenya. This small country in South America is located between two giants, Brazil and Argentina, and has been able to become a footballing phenomenon being the smallest country to ever win the World Cup, which it did on two separate occasions. Uruguay also won the Copa America 14 times and the Olympic Football tournament Gold medal twice. Although football players in Uruguay do not receive salaries on a par with those received by footballers in Europe, their achievements speak for themselves. Even the Uruguayan team coach, Oscar Tabarez, who previously worked as a teacher and is therefore known as “the Teacher” or “El Maestro” is among the lowest paid coaches at the 2010 World Cup, with only the mangers of North Korea and Nigeria earning less than him.

Money is not the only incentive to motivate a person to do something for his country, and perhaps this is the difference between the Uruguayan players and the Kenyan MPs.