Pyrethrum pensioners seeking Sh2bn cite fraud in planned property sale

Entrance to the PPCK Head office

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

About 300 former employees of the Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK) are still fighting to get Sh2 billion owed to them.

The financially struggling state agency used to process pyrethrum, once referred to as black gold and earned Kenya more than Sh10 billion in foreign exchange a year, compared with just Sh57 million today.

Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya pensioners at the Nakuru factory

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

The pensioners have lost faith in government efforts to pay them, including a recent proposal to sell non-core assets like land and houses.

The pensioners want transparency in the selling of land and rental houses in Nakuru worth Sh4 billion to pay their pending dues and supply farmers with planting materials.

"Some properties have been undervalued. Some houses in Nakuru city are worth Sh700 million but the government wants to sell them at about Sh300 million to cartels eyeing the properties,” said Mr Harun Tinga, the pensioners' spokesperson. 

“This is a new avenue for pension thieves to deal the last blow on the remaining pensioners alive."

If the government wants to clear their dues, he said, the land should be valued at current market rates.

"This is unfair and unjust. It's painful to keep PPCK pensioners waiting for more than one decade. The pension law in this country is horrible!" Mr Tinga lamented.

"Now, look, I have been reduced to a perpetual beggar. My relatives have abandoned me. My neighbours see me as a burden yet I contributed faithfully to my pension scheme but after diligently working for PPCK for 30 years the golden handshake is a tale of miseries. 

"The company we served doesn't care for our welfare anymore."

The frustrated pensioners said the Jubilee government was not prioritising their problem, even as it works to revive the ailing sub-sector in 18 pyrethrum-growing counties.

Efforts to revive the ailing sub-sector have been half-hearted, including the plans to dispose of the non-core assets.

Another pensioner said the government had “remained a bystander for 13 years even when the High Court has ruled that we should be paid our pending dues".

"I suffered a stroke two years ago and I have been bedridden and confined to my house,” said Mr Robinson Kuria. 

“I'm now living a miserable and painful life, yet I worked so hard during my youthful days at the defunct Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, which transitioned to PPCK. I saved money that I thought would help me enjoy my retirement in peace."

He said his delayed pension amounts to “a slow death sentence” in his old age.

Ms Annabel Ng'endo, a former worker, is also suffering.

"I'm suffering from arthritis and I underwent a hip operation. I have exhausted all my meagre resources as I wait for my pension dues,” she said. 

“As senior citizens who worked hard and helped the country earn billions of shillings in foreign exchange, we deserve better treatment and I urge the government to address our plight."

Another pensioner, who gave his name as John, said it is evil to deny pensioners their dues.

"The worst that one can do to a pensioner is to withhold the pension in their old age after they have spent most of their life working," he said.

He added: "If the government is humane and fair and just, pensioners should be paid their outstanding dues immediately they retire without further delay to enable them to start a new life without stress."

He said it is shameful and embarrassing for PPCK pensioners to be talking about pension delays 13 years after they retired.

Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya (PPCK) pensioners at the Nakuru factory. The firm is to sell some of its assets to pay pension dues. 

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Nearly 70 PPCK pensioners have died without receiving a cent, and dozens of others are ailing and need money for medical care.

"Hardly a month passes without hearing some bad news. If it's not the death of a colleague, then it's hospitalisation," Mr Tinga said.

"It's now more than a decade since we received our last payment. Sadly, the government, which is supposed to intervene, is acting at a snail's speed to resolve the overdue pension problems ….”

The Pyrethrum Board of Kenya Staff Superannuation Scheme fell into financial problems in 2012, in what was attributed to mismanagement by the sponsors.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, on a visit to the Nakuru pyrethrum factory in October last year, announced a Sh500 million revival plan and assured pensioners they would be paid their dues, including statutory deductions and sacco contributions.

But he did not say when the money would be released.