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Parliamentary shenanigans

The 2010 budget is still being discussed in the Congo. One of the sticking points has been over the salaries that the parliamentarians wanted to vote for themselves. In 2007, MPs got salaries of around $4,000 a month. In addition, the President of the National Assembly Vital Kamerhe managed to get a subsidy for each MP included in the budget for “the functioning of the national assembly” of roughly $1,700/month – the MPs fondly called this les invisibles, as it did no show up officially as their salary (it may have been reimbursement for travel expenses or something of the sort). Out of this total amount, they had to pay around $700-900 a month to pay off the debts on their cars that they had purchased through the national assembly at a cheap wholesale price. So MPs used to end up with around $4,200 a month.

That was then, when the Congolese franc traded at around FC 500 to the US dollar. Now it’s topped FC 900/$, which has affected the MPs’ pay, as it has all other civil servants. So the parliamentary committee in charge of drafting the budget (ECOFIN) has tried to adjust for inflation. Unfortunately, they’ve gone a bit overboard, budgeting salaries of over $8,000 per MP. The government, already cash-strapped, has refused this budget line, and they have spent the past several days in meetings to resolve this matter.

Of course, while we are talking about it, there are other sources of money for parliamentarians. When they travel on official parliamentary delegations, they get $450/day (USA), 400 Euros (Europe) and $400 elsewhere, and each MP who participates in a parliamentary investigation or commission gets a per diem, as well. (In the Congo, they only get $60/day) In addition, votes are often bought during important votes in the national assembly – the rumor had it that in order to make sure Evariste Boshab was elected as the president of the national assembly, each MP from the AMP coalition got $5,000 – a total of over $1,5 million, if it was true. Apparently, the presidency has now agreed to pay the rest of the money that all MOs – even the opposition! – owes for their cars, which also seems to seriously contradict the independence of the legislature. When I recently asked an opposition MP whether Kabila would be able to change the constitution, he told me that under the current constitution, where you only need 3/5 of parliamentary votes to change the constitution, it should be no problem to buy enough votes.

A few comparisons are in order. First, last time I looked Congolese army soldiers earned around $50/person/month and a school teacher around $80.

Congolese MPs are not the worst by far – in Kenya, MPs earn as much as $25,000 per month if you include various benefits, such as gym membership (have you seen the waists of most Kenyan MPs?). By contrast, a US congressperson earns around $14,000/month, but the constitution prohibits any salary increase to take place to take place during the same Congress it was enacted to prevent abuse; also, congressmen automatically get a cost-of-living adjustment every year to adjust for inflation.

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