Kenya’s Ruto Blocks State Employee Annual Pay Rise Amid Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Kenyan President William Ruto asked the National Treasury to review an annual pay increase for state employees that would have kicked in this month.

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The move comes amid mass protests against profligate public spending, corruption and excessive taxation in the East African nation. At least 39 people have been killed since the demonstrations started two weeks ago, many of them as protesters stormed parliament after legislators voted in a raft of new revenue-raising measures.

“The president has emphasized that this is a time, more than ever before, for the executive and all arms of government to live within their means,” Ruto’s spokesman, Hussein Mohamed, said in a post on X.

In changes gazetted last year, salaries for ministers were scheduled to increase by 3% to 990,000 shillings ($7,700) this month, while the inspector general of police would have also received an increase of a similar margin, to 819,844 shillings. The president’s pay remained unchanged at 1.4 million shillings.

Thousands of young Kenyans have been taking to the streets across the nation, initially to complain about new taxes the government meant to introduce to raise about $2.3 billion for its budget spending. The public’s grievances are no longer only about taxes, but the inherent inequality between those in power and ordinary citizens.

‘Fuel Frustration’

A hike in state salaries at this moment would only fuel people’s frustrations, according to Nerima Wako, executive director of Siasa Place, a youth-led civic-tech organization.

“Most of the issues the youth were raising were concerns about corruption and them feeling that government officials are already well overpaid when compared to the GDP of Kenya and other countries,” she said.

The president made a U-turn on many of the proposed taxes last week, promising austerity in all arms of government. The Judicial Service Commission announced on Wednesday it was suspending recruitment of more Court of Appeal judges after a government directive limiting expenditure to 15% of approved budgets.

Ruto’s justified additional taxes on the need for the economy to generate more of its own revenue, rather than rely on debt. In 2021, Kenya agreed on reforms with the International Monetary Fund that included fiscal consolidation to reduce its debt vulnerabilities.

“It’s very clear that our government is very out of touch with reality. The country is in debt and we already need money to service loans and at the same time we’re increasing salaries for lawmakers. That means these people don’t care about us,” said Boniface Mwangi, a prominent activist.

--With assistance from David Herbling.

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