We are not goons, say auctioneers as they struggle to shed off dubious tag

David Winston holds his bid during the auction of planes by the Kenya Airports Authority after previous owners abandoned them at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya November 17, 2021. [Reuters]

There is nothing flattering that comes to mind when someone mentions an auctioneer.

They are seen as the devil’s advocate; they reap where they did not sow. Yet theirs, as Maurice Osundwa, an auctioneer says, is a business like any other. 

“What comes out whenever an auctioneer is mentioned is negative. That image that is out there about auctioneers is the wrong image, and it is not the truth about what we do,” said Mr Osundwa. He said that on average, an auctioneer receives training four times a year.

“They must satisfy certain conditions. They can be penalised by the board or the courts. We are good citizens trying to survive just like any other Kenyan,” said Mr Osundwa.

But the harsh reality that confronts them in the line of duty has made some of them to reconsider their career choice.

Eunice Wangaya, a Kisumu-based auctioneer says she one time had to file a police report after receiving death threats from a politician when she went to his home to execute a notice.

Ms Wangaya said their job is already difficult as they at times have to deal with people who are going through genuine financial or psychological problems that affect their ability to honour their debts.

This is in addition to limited knowledge about the nature of their job. She recalled another incident when she had to execute an auction notice against a woman who had just given birth for rent arrears. “The woman had a baby, about one week old,” recalls Ms Wangaya.

“The husband had not paid rent for four months, and she was not aware. I had to talk to her nicely, then called the husband,” says the psychology graduate.

She said it is such circumstances that make many people view them as “insensitive.” How to shed off this tainted image was one of the key discussions during the recent auctioneers’ training workshop in Kiambu County.

A majority of speakers said it is auctioneers who have to get their hands dirty in helping banks and other financial institutions to recover their money in case of defaults but do not get the due recognition or pay they deserve.

“There are good and bad people. You serve them the notice, and they ask you to let them drive the car because they do not want to be seen with you,” says Ms Wangaya.

Herman Kasili, a member of the Auctioneers Licensing Board representing the Kenya National Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) said auctioneering is a lawful business and should be treated as such.

“Sometimes people say ‘these people are goons,’ but they are not. They operate under an Act of Parliament and I know they have been trained. They are in the tail-end of the process,” he said.

Before Mr Kasili joined the board, he was a practising auctioneer. “Whenever an auctioneer comes to your place, do not look at them as goons. Look at them as officers of the court doing their work,” he said.

Mr Kasili noted that when an auctioneer shows at your doorstep, it is wise to follow instructions.

“Sometimes, they will advise you on what to do, but when you become rowdy, they will also seek police assistance. It is in the law.”

Dennis Kirui, the chairman of the National Association of Kenya Auctioneers, said before the Act of Parliament, auctioneering was regulated by the provincial administration up to 1996.

The Auctioneers Licensing Board, according to the Auctioneers Act 526, comprises a High Court judge (chair), Permanent (now Principal) Secretary in the Office of the President, one chief magistrate, two advocates of not less than 10 years nominated by the Law Society of Kenya, four auctioneers, a Kenya Bankers Association representative and another from KNCCI.

“Auctioneers are professional people,” said Kirui. “They are properly regulated like in any other profession.”

They fear the August 9 polls could further dim hopes of recovery. According to the Central Bank of Kenya Credit Survey Report for the quarter ended March 2021, the sectors with the highest non-performing loans (NPLs) were personal and households, real estate, transport and communication, tourism and trade.

“The increase in NPLs was mainly due to a challenging business environment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” says the report.