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Kenyans fail to claim assets worth Sh54.9b

UFAA Chief Executive Mr John Mwangi. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The government has unclaimed financial assets valued at Sh54.9 billion, including ShSh24 billion worth of cash whose owners cannot be traced.

The unclaimed assets are in the form of dividends; bank deposits; mobile money; matured insurance policies or bonuses and shares, which are being held in trust by the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority (UFAA).

A big chunk of the money (60 per cent), new data shows, includes deposits and cash in dormant current and savings accounts from financial institutions, especially commercial banks.

According to UFAA Chief Executive Mr John Mwangi, there is about Sh2 billion in uncollected mobile money funds, including M-Pesa.

There are over 1 billion units of shares that have been reported as unclaimed. These shares are valued at Sh30.9 billion, taking the tally of assets remitted and reported under the Fund to Sh54.9 billion as of December 2021.

Six months earlier in June 2021, total unclaimed assets were valued at Sh50.9 billion.

The mandate of UFAA is to receive, safeguard and reunite financial assets with their owners.

The authority holds the financial assets in trust in perpetuity, which means that owners cannot lose the assets over time.

“We hold them on your behalf as the original owner if you are alive, or if you are diseased on behalf of your beneficiaries,” said Mr Mwangi in an interview.

Over 1,000 institutions have remitted assets to UFAA in the past seven years.

There is about Sh2 billion in uncollected mobile money funds, including M-Pesa. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Before the assets are forwarded to the authority as unclaimed, the various institutions known as holders such as banks, telcos, insurance companies or Saccos must first try to find the owners of the assets.

“The law gives a timeline within which these institutions should look for these owners. And once that timeline has passed and they haven’t found the owner, then they are required under the law to surrender those assets to the authority,” said Mr Mwangi, adding that organisations must also forward details of the assets.

So far, about 23,000 people have come forward to claim the assets, with the authority paying out a total of Sh1.5 billion worth of assets.

A lot of the assets, especially high-value cash are from defunct public institutions.

The claims are mostly of small values to many people, with UFAA’s highest payout being Sh85 million, while the lowest was Sh17, said Mr Mwangi.

The reunification rate has improved from one per cent to five per cent over the years as people become more aware of UFAA.

But the authority, which has offices only in Nairobi, is struggling with a lack of capacity.

Although the authority’s mandate cuts across all the sectors of the economy and all corners of the country, it only has 33 members of staff to perform its functions.

The authority also has to contend with a legal framework that presumes a linear claiming process, with every claimant subjected to the same process, irrespective of the amount of the money being claimed.

To address the problem of capacity, the authority is working with other partners such as Huduma Centres to reach as many people as possible.

It is also amending the law to make the process much friendlier for claimants.

In an earlier interview, the authority noted that it is banking on the Auditor-General to help it deliver on its mandate by calling out government entities that fail to remit unclaimed assets.

Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu. [File, Standard]

In October last year, UFAA said that public sector agencies are among the organisations holding upwards of Sh241 billion made of different financial assets belonging to Kenyans who have not made a claim to them.

The entities also include banks, listed firms and insurers holding onto cash in dormant accounts, unclaimed dividends, safe boxes, unit trusts and insurance policies whose owners cannot be traced.

 “We have partnered with the Office of the Auditor-General to facilitate the audit of public sector agencies on compliance with unclaimed financial assets reporting and surrender,” said UFAA Chairman Mr Richard Kiplagat.

“The Auditor-General has scoped compliance with unclaimed financial assets law as an audit issue in the ongoing statutory audit across agencies of government at national and county levels,” he added. 

Deputy Director at the Office of the Auditor-General John Karingithi said all government agencies would be required to report on their compliance with the Unclaimed Financial Assets Act, 2011, which requires public and private sector entities to surrender unclaimed financial assets to the authority. 

“There are already procedures on the process of surrendering unclaimed financial assets. Soon, this will become a routine… all ministries, departments and agencies will be required to stick to it,” he said. The Auditor-General has started flagging non-compliance with the unclaimed assets law among government entities.

The public sector entities are, however, not the only ones flouting the law. Numerous private sector firms have also been sitting on financial wealth whose owners cannot be traced, adding to the over Sh241 billion being held by about 490,000 institutions.

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