The story of retired teachers chasing their pensions has often been told, fighting in the corridors of justice for the past 16 years.
Behind the tired faces was one that gave hope. The man walked with the retirees for all those years as they pursued their pensions and salary arrears. That man was lawyer Dominic Kimatta. Kimatta died on Sunday at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi.
Kimatta’s widow, Hilda, told The Standard he was a treasure, not only to her, but the society.
She said the lawyer had been admitted to War Memorial Hospital in Nakuru before being transferred to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi. He had been diagnosed with pneumonia.
“He died on Sunday at around 6.30am. We lost a hero, a courageous man who stood for the truth,” said Hilda.
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Kimatta will be remembered for standing with the more than 52,000 retired teachers in their 16-year journey as they sought their pension from the government.
The story of the retired teachers would be incomplete without his name being mentioned.
Whenever he was asked about the retirees' case, Kimatta would simply say: “It’s been quite a journey”.
He used to say he would be happy to see the senior citizens get their dues and enjoy the fruits of their labour.
“I have fought the battle alone and it’s my duty to see them get their dues,” Kimatta said in an earlier interview.
It all began on October 16, 2004, when a group of retired teachers approached him in his Nakuru office. The pensioners wanted him to institute a suit, on their behalf, against the government, as they pursued their salary and pension arrears.
Leave was granted on November 2, 2005 allowing the retirees to file their case. But they had nothing to pay lawyer Kimatta for the service.
Before meeting Kimatta the pensioners had approached several lawyers who declined to file the case as they had offered nothing as a deposit.
The pensioners saw Kimatta as their saviour and after a talk, he agreed to pick up the matter.
The retirees only promised to pay the lawyer if they won the case.
“They were honest,” he said in an earlier interview.
After studying the documents presented to him, the lawyer said he knew his clients had a good cause of action.
Kimatta went to court and sought leave to file a class action case. A section of retires had to file as representatives of the other retirees as they could not file 52,000 cases for each.
Any determination by the court was to apply to all the retired teachers
The court allowed them to file the case, which was presented before Justice David Maraga who was then the presiding judge of Nakuru Law Courts.
The case was based on a 1997 agreement between the teachers and the government.
On October 23, 2008, Justice Maraga held that the teachers were entitled to full salary increment as at the time of their retirement.
“In the result, I grant the declarations that the plaintiffs and all the other retired teachers covered by the agreement dated October 11, 1997 between the defendant and the teachers’ union KNUT, as read with the TSC Circular No. 13/97, are entitled to their retirement benefits being based on the entire salary increment contained in that agreement and circular,” read the judgment.
The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) was ordered to make the payment or liaise with the pension department for the same.
The retirees were to receive a total Sh16.7 billion, with accrued interest.
However, before the former teachers could celebrate their victory, the TSC lodged an appeal.
The teachers' employer said the computation and award of pension should not have been based on salary that had not been earned.
The Court of Appeal rejected the submissions and upheld the judgment of the High Court to the effect that the retirees had an accrued contractual right to the additional salary.
But the TSC would not relent. It moved to the Supreme Court.
Five Supreme Court judges, led by then Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal, in a 45-page judgment, disallowed the notice of motion by TSC in December 2015.
Besides frequenting the corridors of justice, Kimatta was a regular visitor to the Treasury offices as he followed up the retirees' case.
He also held many meetings at Treasury and Parliament in pursuit of the pensioners’ dues. Each time Kimatta would go to Parliament, five pensioners would accompany him.
What used to disturb him was the fact that even after being to the highest court the government still fought back the senior citizens.
He then revealed that he had filed more than 1,000 death certificates of retired teachers who did not live to see their successes.
The retirees are yet to receive their money, 16 years later, and they say Kimatta's death is a big blow to them. They eulogised him as a reliable, articulate and trustworthy person.
“In the long-running struggle, the advocate has been steadfast, always accompanying us to various offices and being the main player in the legal tussle,” read a statement by the Retired Teachers Executive, led by Chairman Joseph Mwenja.
Sharp, seasoned lawyer
Lawyer Kipkoech Ng'etich said Kimatta was a sharp, seasoned lawyer who knew how to handle his cases.
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) Council member said the demise of Kimatta was a big loss to the society.
"He was down to earth, social, affable and generous. He mastered the book and knew how to go about his work as an advocate," said Mr Ng'etich.
Kimatta will be laid to rest at his Engashura home on October 31.