Pensioner's 30-year vain wait for Sh74,000

Hannington Owaka Okolo filed a case in 1993 and was awarded Sh74,921.75. [iStockphoto]

If judges were gods, perhaps Justice Roselyn Aburili in wrath would have directed thunder to strike the director of pensions. She said the office appears cursed.

Nevertheless, the judge ordered the pensions boss to appear before the court on January 30 for mitigation and sentencing in a sad story of an 82-year-old pensioner who sought her help after being denied his heyday savings.

On the outskirts of Kisumu City, Hannington Owaka Okolo watches as Lake Victoria’s water tides repeatedly chase for the shoreline.

Owaka has been in similar chase like the lake waters. Although he faithfully served the country's Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute and retired without any scandal, his ambition to settle peacefully on the lake shores is yet to materialise.

He fondly recalls how he served from 1963 to 1972 with the East African Railways and Harbours.

Owaka also had a stint with East African Community from October 5, 1972 to 1977.

He worked with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute from July 1, 1980 to March 30, 1992 when he retired at the age of 50.

Long chase

In his voice, however, lies a storm of anger, as his frail, sickly and old frame cannot anymore chase his Sh74,921 pension in Nairobi any more.

When Owaka retired, he hoped that the pension would take care of his sunset days. He yearned for a quiet life without debts.

Financial chart. [iStockphoto]

However, the director of pensions has reduced his life to despair.

Currently, civil servants contribute 7.5 percent of their monthly salary towards pension. They, however, can increase the rate. On the other hand, the government contributes a flat rate of 15 percent.

Under the previous scheme where Owaka is a member, it took a worker 10 years from the time he or she retired or resigned from government to get his retirement benefits.

However, a new scheme dubbed Public Service Superannuation Scheme reduced the time by half.

The Treasury last year allocated Sh189 billion as pension pay expenses. The same was to shoot by 18.76 billion for the current financial year and climb further to Sh228.61 billion for 2025/26 financial year.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u said the ballooning pension bill was posing a fiscal risk.

Owaka is a poster boy of the harrowing tales of retirees who end up living in distress as they chase for what appears to be the wind in their sunset days.

The Treasury indicates that some 30,155 government workers will retire by June, this year. The records also reveal that the number of pensioners and their dependents is more than 320,000.

For those retirees who have no relatives or friends who can house them, the chase means they have to pitch tent in the sometimes cold and dangerous streets of Nairobi waiting for Godot.

"Waiting for Godot" is a tragicomedy play in which nothing happens, just like the chase for pension.

Justice Abiruli, in her judgment, wondered whether the pensions office has humans.

She suggested that the office be assigned to a retiree as he or she can relate to pain experienced by others. She was of the view that the current crop have enough airs.

“Is the office of Director of Pensions inhabited by human beings? I ask this question many times as I write this brief judgment asking myself why public servants must be compelled to perform their public duties and why, even after being compelled by courts of law, there is brazen disobedience of those orders with the attitude, I guess, utado (slang meaning you can do nothing)?” paused Justice Aburili.

Justice Roselyne Aburili. [Courtesy]

She observed that despite Owaka and other pensioners' predicaments appearing like movie scenes, the suffering is real, as some cannot afford to pay medical costs that knock in with aging.

The judge was of the view that this state of affairs has perhaps led to public servants engaging in graft and amassing illegal wealth to cushion themselves from the oddities of life after retirement.

In an ironical but sad fate, she said, as soon as civil servants retire, their monthly salaries are stopped with pay advises being done with lightning speed.  She said the same happens when a public servant dies.

However, this ushers them to a snail-paced new life of queuing and waiting for their pensions to be calculated while staring at the grave as they cannot even afford to pay for the government owned health insurance – National Hospital Insurance Fund.

“No wonder, many public servants scramble for public resources while in office by throwing integrity through the window in favour of a better life after retirement. The reality of the matter is that most retirees die without seeing or touching anything called pension, which is their accrued right.”

“What the office of director of pensions has done over a period of time is to dilly-dally, refuse to see or hear the plight of retirees, give all manner of excuses for non-payment including oh, we have not seen the file, oh the calculations were wrong, oh the file is lost, oh and oh and oh!” she observed.

Mathematically, if the pensions team was to pay Owaka every month for the 30 years, it would have been giving him Sh202 every month.

However, the money is stuck somewhere despite the same being remitted by the employer.

He filed a case in 1993 and was awarded Sh74,921.75.

In 2018, the High Court ordered that he be paid a lumpsum and interest from April 1, 1992. He was also given Sh22,060 as cost of the case.

However, today he carries a paper judgment as he waits for payment as ordered by the court.