Accountant’s retirement pain after 40-year career in Civil Service

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When Geoffrey Nyaribo bade farewell the civil service on June 30, 2017, he looked forward to a pleasant restful life in his sunset years.

Since then, a case of identity theft has robbed him of the right to enjoy his retirement benefits.

When Mr Nyaribo went to the Pensions’ Department on July 1, 2017 to process his benefits, he was shocked to learn that one Joseph K Soi, who had retired in 2006, was receiving his money.

Mr Nyaribo also learned that Mr Soi was drawing his income using a different number.

Shocked and disappointed, the man who had worked as a government accountant for 40 years filed a complaint.

On inquiry he was told that Mr Soi was a support staff at the Department of Infrastructure who had retired in 1999.

Whereas Mr Nyaribo was born in 1957 and expected to retire in 2017, Mr Soi was born in 1951 and retired in 2006, at 55.

Further, Mr Nyaribo was an accountant but records at the Pensions Department showed that he was an engineer.

Mr Nyaribo, “the engineer”, was processed using a non-pensionable surveyor’s employment number.

To receive the benefits, an account was opened at Equity Bank’s Kimathi Street branch, Nairobi, in 2006 under the name of Geoffrey Nchogu Nyaribo using a passport.

The photo on the passport was not in any way similar to Mr Nyaribo’s.

Again, the passport bears a different number from Mr Nyaribo’s.

The Immigrations Department found inconsistencies in the passport used to open the account and flagged it as a possible fake. The first lump sum payment to the account, according to the Anti-Banking Fraud Unit, was sent to three people.

Subsequent disbursements to the account were withdrawn mostly through ATMs over 11 years.

The photos of the person withdrawing the money, as captured by cameras at ATMs, are different from the facial appearance of Mr Nyaribo.

The Pensions Department continued sending money to the account, even after Mr Nyaribo’s complaints, until February 2018.

Ironically, the holder of the receiving account is yet to be traced and Mr Nyaribo is yet to earn his pension. Follow-ups of the case at the Pensions Department have literally worn out a man who was hoping for a peaceful retirement.

As a matter of fact before any payments are made, confirmation of details of a prospective pensioner is an important process.

This indicates that the processing officer was either horribly incompetent or an accomplice.

Perhaps as an indicator that this is a deep-seated issue, the Treasury is conducting a head count of all pensioners countrywide.

The exercise, which is going on at Huduma centres, is expected to end on May 3. The move is aimed at updating the department’s data and cleaning the pensioners’ payroll. “Persons who fail to make it to the headcount will be presumed dead and payments to their bank accounts will be stopped,” a Treasury official involved in the exercise said.

The auditor-general, in a 2015 report, warned that advancements in banking sector technology and an ageing pension payment system made it difficult for Kenya to maintain a clean retirees’ payroll, leading to loss of billions of shillings to fraudsters.

Previously, when retirees used to cash cheques through Postbank, such cases were unheard of. However, when all banks were incorporated in the payments, coupled with the advent of mobile banking, the problem multiplied.

Whereas the Pensions Department says it does not have an exact figure of the number of ghost pensioners, the number could run into thousands.

Currently, retired civil servants are paid Sh90.6 billion per year. This has risen from Sh15 billion in 2002, indicating the burden taxpayers bear to keep pensioners comfortable.

The figure is projected to increase to Sh109 billion next year given that 40,100 people are set to retire within two years, according to the Public Service Commission.

The department and retirees risk losing more money unless deterrent measures are put in place urgently.

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