NAIROBI Kenyan legislators have tripled their end-of-term bonuses once again, sweetening the deal with extra perks like diplomatic passports and security for life as well as state funerals when they die.
Lawmakers first attempted to triple the bonus they will each receive when their five-year term ends this month to 9.3 million shillings ($107,300) in October, a move the president rejected.
But in a final act before parliament closes ahead of elections on March 4, legislators passed two bills awarding themselves the bonuses, at a late-night sitting on Wednesday.
They also demanded diplomatic passports for themselves and their spouses, long-life security paid for by taxpayers, as well as the right to be accorded state funerals, hitherto a preserve of presidents and notable achievers, when they die.
The bill requires President Mwai Kibaki's assent to become law. The second bill contains provisions for the president's own retirement package including a 12.6 million shillings one-off payment.
At an extra cost of around 2 billion shillings, the higher bonuses for members of parliament outraged many taxpayers who already consider many of their MPs lazy, corrupt and greedy.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a leading candidate in the presidential election scheduled for March, joined in the condemnation of the lawmakers' move.
"The passage of these bills amounts to treachery by parliament. It is an attempt by MPs to blackmail, arm-twist and even bribe the executive in order to have their way," he said.
In a statement, Odinga added that the proposals contained in the bills bordered on "criminality" and he was talking to Kibaki to ensure they do the right thing for the people.
Boniface Mwangi, an activist who has in the past used visual arts to campaign against the lawmakers, said their latest action was unacceptable and insensitive, coming at a time of widespread insecurity in the country.
"It is actually blatant stealing. Tana River is burning and no one is talking about it," Mwangi told Reuters, referring to the killing of 19 people in ethnic clashes at the country's Tana River Delta in the coast this week.
He accused the lawmakers of putting citizens' security at further risk by demanding bodyguards after their retirement.
"We live in an unsafe country and now there will be one less cop on the streets because a retired MP has to have a lifetime bodyguard," said the activist. ($1 = 86.7000 Kenyan shillings)
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)