NAIROBI, Kenya—Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ignited a nationwide debate over government employee wages this month when he surprised the country by announcing he would reduce his own salary by 20 percent.
The move signaled the beginning of a fierce debate over government wages, which are rising out of control: This year, public sector salaries are expected to eat up 54 percent of all tax revenue and equal 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to cabinet secretary in charge of the Treasury, Henry Rotich.
Kenya currently pays out some 543.7 billion shillings, or $6.4 billion, per year in public salaries and benefits. But recently that figure has been rising at the rate of 21 percent per year, “well above (Kenya’s) nominal GDP growth of about 14 percent and population growth rate of about 3 percent,” said Rotich.
Kenya employs some 700,000 civil servants, making the public sector a sizeable employer in the country. But as wages continue to take up a greater share of the national budget, many fear Kenya will lack the funds necessary to invest in infrastructure and other development projects that are critical to supporting the country’s economic growth.