You can’t get a government job without a certificate of good conduct. The private sector is gradually taking the cue, with most employers making it compulsory for job seekers to have what is now called the police clearance certificate — one among several documents that have become necessary to secure employment.
Besides the certificate of good conduct, job seekers are also required to provide the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) compliance certificate — whether you stepped into college or not. The Helb certificate is renewable annually.
Then there is tax compliance certificate from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), even if you have never drawn a salary in your life. Clearance from the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) are the other documents required to get a job with government — the country’s biggest employer.
All certificates will cost a jobless Kenyan upwards of Sh5,000 — and are renewable annually for Sh1,000, even for the Helb certificate — which even secondary school dropouts seeking a gardening job at a parastatal have to obtain and still renew annually at a cost!
Sometimes back, a lobby group moved to court to challenge the requirement that job seekers produce a certificate of good conduct. The Legal Resources Foundation Trust (LRFT) in its court petition argued that the background check requirements are not only prone to abuse, but also violated the job seekers’ rights.
“We have gone to court and what we are saying is that the requirement curtails productivity, particularly those seeking employment,” said the foundation’s executive director, Janet Munywoki in March last year.
One year later, the matter is yet to progress since the offices of the Attorney General (AG) and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) named as the respondents, are yet to reply to the petition. Munywoki argues that the provision for the police clearance certificate knocks out thousands scrambling for jobs, but many more promising candidates miss out due to financial constraints that render it impossible for some to process the certificate, or out of fear facing police officers.
“Our intention is informed by the need to do away with such a discriminative provision, unfortunately the parties involved; the AG and DCI, have not filed their responses,” Munywoki told The Nairobian.
In the Kenyan job market, a police clearance certificate is ranked among the main requirements, but the sad reality is that most Kenyans have no idea what it’s all about and how or where to get it.
A police clearance certificate means that the holder has been searched in the criminal records system. The certificate is nevertheless issued whether the applicant has a criminal record or not. In case of no existing criminal record, a ‘nil’ outcome will be indicated on the certificate.
“In the event of a crime committed or an ongoing court case, you will still be given the certificate, which will capture all details pertaining to the crime or court case,” explains DCI director George Kinoti, adding that many Kenyans fear acquiring it for fear of their past being exposed to potential employers.
“The significance of this requirement is to show the employer the kind of person they intend to employ,” says Kinoti, revealing that the Crime Research Bureau is in the process of developing a data bank of all employees in Kenya.
This will make it easier for employers to do background checks on the criminal history of employees or recruits. Even the lowest cadre in the job chain like house helps, barmaids, shamba boys and security guards will not be spared.
“This is one way of dealing with the terrorism problem. We have had instances where employers hire people, only for some to turn out to be dishonest by skimming off crucial insider information and using it against their employers,” explains Kinoti.
Those applying online through e-citizen pay Sh1,050 for the police clearance. Details of those with conviction records can only be expunged after a successful court appeal. Non-capital offenders’ criminal records can only be expunged after 10 years.
“If convicted, the record will be expunged after 20 years, but this does not apply to offences such as murder, rape and violent robbery,” says the DCI boss.
The police clearance certificate is therefore one gateway to prosperity or poverty. Over the last ten years, the certificate has been a must-have for jobseekers, with companies which are cautious about potential employees’ profiles.
*John is a living testimony of how a certificate of good conduct can turn someone’s life upside down. He lost his job when the employer discovered that the cargo handler at an airline company operating at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) had a court case dating five years back. The case at Makadara Law Courts revolved around a bar brawl between John and another man after the duo differed over a woman both were eyeing.
The fight resulted in John injuring the man, who then reported the matter at Soweto Police Station. John was arrested and briefly detained before being released. The matter later proceeded to court. The complainant only appeared in court once. Early last year, John’s employer did a scrutiny of employees’ papers. All the employees were asked to forward afresh their academic papers accompanied with a certificate of good conduct.
John went to the DCI and applied for the certificate of good conduct. After two weeks, he went to pick the document and was shocked to learn that it indicated a pending court case whose details were well captured.
He unsuccessfully tried to convince the police to expunge the details of the court case on the certificate. The police gave him two options: to have a clearance letter from the chief magistrate or trace the complainant and solve the matter out of court.
The two options were not applicable – the magistrate only issues the letter once the matter has been concluded. Secondly, the complainant could not be found. And just like that, John lost his job of 10 years because his certificate of good conduct was not “clean”.
Previously, a certificate of good conduct used to be the standard requirement for security and hospitality jobs in the informal sector. Soon it became a norm in formal organisations, with the government leading the pack in demanding police background checks before interviews or appointments.
Jacqueline Mugo, the executive director of the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) says as much as they empathise with the situation, the federation is engaging the government on the need for an easy transition to employment. One of the suggestions is to link all vital information to individuals’ national identification card so that it becomes the only document of reference. According to Mugo, this can be achieved by linking the ID card details to the Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS).
“There is need for information hence the need for the certificate of good conduct. For example, if one has an issue with payment of Helb loan, that information is useful to the employer to help Helb start recovering the loan. If the individual is denied the job then all parties lose,” observes Mugo.
She says employers are looking forward to the day background checks on prospective employees will be managed from a centralised point, easing the pain jobseekers go through trying to get reference documents.
“The job seekers’ plight is the cost of obtaining these documents separately. It can be costly, both in terms of time and money, which is a barrier to many youth, especially those from poor economic backgrounds,” states the FKE boss.
Isaac Andabwa, the secretary general of the Kenya National Private Security Workers’ Union (KNPSWU) says employment should precede vetting, arguing that the current practice locks out of employment talented young men and women unable to raise money to process the police clearance certificate.
“The certificate is mandatory, but it should not be used to deny the youth employment opportunities. There is a need to review the whole process. The rational practice would be to allow jobseekers to get jobs then have the employer finance the acquisition of the certificate. This is what KK Security Group is doing and the approach has proven successful,” says Andabwa.
Even after the certificate has been availed, many security firms are notorious for demanding a letter of confirmation from the chief. Andabwa says that because of the nature of the services they offer, firms go to such extremes to get more details about those they intend to recruit.
Cosmas Mutava, the chairman of the Protective Security Industry Association (PSIA), wants the process of acquiring the police clearance certificate made easy, reasoning that it is expensive and time consuming in its current form. He says that the document is important since the people they employ have to be of good character and above reproach. PSIA is a conglomeration of security firms in the country.
“Our job entails deterrence, protection, observation and recording. Therefore, the requirement of the certificate is to make sure we arm the right people to perform the four functions of security. We need people who have been vetted and passed the test,” explains Mutava.
The official’s wish is to address some of the challenges making the application process difficult. “One of them is the issue of money. Here is a situation where some of the jobseekers have no bus fare to attend trainings or interviews, but they are required to raise 1,050 to get the certificate. Distance is also a problem, especially for those from far-flung areas who are forced to travel all the way to DCI headquarters to have their finger prints taken,” observes Mutava.
Labour Cabinet Secretary, Ukur Yattani did not respond to our calls and text message over this matter.
The umbrella workers’ body, Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) described the certificates requirement as ill-conceived and worthless.
The union’s chairman, Rajabu Mwondi said: “They are creating problems for people who are already in financial trouble. It does not make sense to demand a KRA compliance certificate from a jobseeker who is clearly not paying taxes.”