Unease in Times Tower as KRA staff protest poor pay and hiked rent

As civil societies, human rights groups, the clergy, opposition politicians and even Kenyans online continue to raise concerns over the rising cost of living in the country, the situation is no different for staff at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

 The workers at Times Tower are staging a protest over what they alleged are substandard working conditions and poor pay while facing mounting pressure for higher taxes.

 he employees told The Standard that they were unhappy following the Board’s decision to raise rent for KRA houses by almost 100 per cent. This increase occurred twice within a single month, affecting offices nationwide, they said.  

The concerns about the alleged unfavourable working conditions at the revenue collection office has created discontent and the workers feared it could derail the Kenya Kwanza’s government plan to double revenue collections.

In the interview with The Standard, the workers highlighted the lack of representation and attention for their welfare. 

They raised concerns regarding various issues such as the absence of a workers’ union to represent their interests, the increasing housing rent in KRA housing units, the pressure to meet revenue collection targets, and the unfair recruitment processes.  

A staff has been both working and living in the KRA housing units for nearly 10 years. Despite not receiving a salary increment in the past five years, he continues to strive for survival in the city.

“I have worked at KRA for about 10 years and the working conditions here are not improving. I still get the same salary I was getting five years ago yet my rent has been increased, the cost of living has gone up and even new taxes introduced,” he narrated to The Standard tears running down his cheeks.

“Imagine having to sacrifice so much, then someone hits you with unrealistic targets to meet failure to which you risk losing your job. It is unfair. Where do you get the morale to even show up at work? Most people I know are planning to move out of KRA units. Especially in Nairobi, the rent is too high,” he added.

The Standard did not get a comment from the Kenya Revenue Authority by press time. 

The Standard has obtained official communication documents revealing that the initial increase in KRA housing rent was officially announced and put into effect by the board of the authority. This decision came after a recommendation was presented in 2022.
The notification was disseminated through a staff memo issued by Barille Wario, the Deputy Commissioner of Facilities and Logistics Services, on June 19, 2023. 

“This will allow the Authority align valuation of rental premises as guided by the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning (MOLPP) and ensure compliance with the government circular of January 18, 2021 on rent charges on our housing estates,” the memo read in part.
Following the issuance of the notice, a significant number of KRA Housing tenants lodged appeals against the rent revaluation, which compelled the Board to reconsider its decision. Nevertheless, the Board defended the rent increment and emphasised that the updated rates would be implemented in the KRA employees’ salaries from October 1 onwards.

“Management received tenant appeals against the rent revaluation. The same were submitted to the KRA Board for review. Upon consideration, the Board upheld that the rent revaluation be effected as earlier approved.

“In this regard, this is to notify all KRA staff tenants housed in KRA estates that the revised rental rates will be effected in your November salaries. This memo serves as a 30-day notice of the rent increase.”

Consequently, this implies that a resident of a one-bedroom house in Lang’ata will now be required to pay Sh15,000 instead of the previous amount of Sh8,800. Similarly, a four-bedroom house in the same area will now have a monthly rent of Sh50,000, compared to the initial amount of Sh31,900.

Approximately one week after informing its employees about the updated rates, KRA implemented yet another increment in accordance with the government’s directive on rents for state-owned residential properties.

“Having reviewed this directive, the KRA Board resolved that the 10 per cent increase be effected as guided. In this regard, please find the rental rates that will be applicable for the various KRA staff houses with effect from November 1, 2023, having factored in this increase,” Wario told KRA staff

The notification of a 10 per cent increase for government residential houses across the country, effective this month, was conveyed to the National Treasury by Charles Hinga, the Principal Secretary of the State Department for Housing and Urban Development.

“It was noted that the rent rates have stagnated since 2001 for most government housing, therefore it remains an avenue that can increase Appropriation In Aid (AIA) for the state department in line with the observations made in the meeting held on September 22, 2023, with you on enhancing AIA for the State Department,” PS Hinga’s communique read in part.

Appropriation-in-Aid means revenue assigned to and collected by public bodies which they are permitted by the Treasury to appropriate against expenditure approved by Parliament.

“This is to, therefore, seek your concurrence to adjust Rent Rates for Government Residential Housing by 10 per cent commencing November 1, 2023,” he added.
Therefore, a person living in a one-bedroom house in Lang’ata that was going for Sh8,800 as of May 2021 will have to pay Sh16,500.

According to the staff who have spoken to The Standard, staff bonuses at the end of every financial year have also been removed. They also linked their woes to a new performance watch system which has been implemented to assess their performance based on the established targets.

“Nowadays, we are forced to do appraisals quarterly. We used to do it annually. It puts a lot of pressure on staff. We are even placed under a performance improvement system. If you score lower than 80 per cent you are placed under cautionary stage to improve in six months.” one of the employees said.

“The pass mark is 90 per cent. If you over-perform, you are called for validation to defend why and how you exceeded the target. Nothing makes sense there anymore,” another said. “People live from hand to mouth. We are struggling and some of us are not able to meet our basic needs. Mental health issues and alcoholism are slowly taking up most of us.”

The revelations come at a time KRA has faced huge pressure from the Ruto administration to address revenue leakage and enhance the financial resources of the State, to allow the Treasury to reduce its dependence on public debt.

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