Some representatives of over 7,800 Kenya Railways Staff pensioners chant on April 21, 2021 as they address the media in Nairobi.

| Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Railway pensioners’ land file ‘disappears’ over Sh7.9 billion deal

A pension scheme sold prime land to the government for Sh7.9 billion but after a partial payment, the file mysteriously disappeared at the lands ministry.

The missing file has seen at least 7,000 Kenya Railways pensioners go for months without their monthly dues, yet Sh1.2 billion was paid out. The money is, interestingly, lying idle in the coffers of a State agency.

Financial struggles

When Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) and Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) took over the Railways Club – owned by the scheme – pensioners thought the deal would alleviate their financial struggles.

The National Lands Commission (NLC) valued the 16 acres at Sh7.9 billion although the clubhouse was not considered for compensation.

Upon transfer of ownership to the government, NMS was to put up the Green Park terminus while Kenha was to use part of the land in the construction of the Nairobi Expressway.

The Treasury released the first instalment of Sh1.2 billion, which NLC received on February 23.

The sale of assets was expected to take care of pensioners’ monthly dues and other financial obligations. Instead, it only exacerbated their pain.

Five months after the deal, the Kenya Railways Corporation Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme is yet to receive a dime and its members’ devastation is palpable.

“The scheme is yet to receive the money because the file at the lands ministry went missing the same day NLC got the funds and so a final clean search cannot be given,” said Isaac Amuma, a board member of the Association of Kenya Railways retirees.

“Officials and pensioners have held numerous meetings with all the concerned parties to no avail. Sadly, we have lost 70 pensioners. Most of our members are at an advanced age.”

Kenya Railways Workers Association (FKRWA) secretary, Joab Kidaha, alleged that corrupt cartels at Ardhi House were behind the mess after the scheme turned down their demands to hire a fresh lawyer to manage the transaction.

“We were surprised that they wanted another lawyer to oversee the deal yet we already have a State counsel and our own working on the case. They had their own lawyer who was supposed to get 10 per cent of the Sh1.2 billion. We could not agree. It’s robbery,” he said, terming the ministry “a den of cartels”.

After the standoff, the file vanished. The ministry later issued a gazette notice on March 19 announcing the lost land register, titled ‘reconstruction of lost or destroyed land register’.

The notice confirmed that the Kenya Railways Corporation Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme was the legit proprietor of the piece of land known as L.R. No.209/11953 by virtue of a grant registered as L.R.72448/1.

“The land register in respect thereof is lost or destroyed and efforts made to locate it have failed,” stated S.C Njoroge, registrar of titles in Nairobi.

“Notice is given that after the expiration of 60 days from the date hereof, I intend to proceed with the reconstruction of the property register as provided under Section 33(5) of the Act, provided that no objection has been received within that period,” he added.

The notice was not taken kindly by the pensioners, who termed it a plot to deny them their dues. They also accused the NLC of colluding with the ministry in the process and urged President Kenyatta to intervene and rein in graft cartels.

“How did the file disappear just days after we had refused to accept the requirements of the new lawyer? There is some mischief being played to deny steal our money. The Sh120 million for the new lawyer is enough to pay two months’ pension for our members,” said Mr Kidaha.

NLC chairperson Gershom Otachi had told the Senate last month that they would release the funds to the scheme “immediately”.

Graft claims

He denied corruption allegations and said the commission was working “in a clean and transparent manner” regarding the payment.

Mr Otachi said NLC was “more than willing” to transfer the funds to the scheme but could not do so after they encountered an inhibition when they ran a search on the land in question.

“It is well within the law that we ascertain that the search of any land is clean before we pay the compensation. Failure to do this will result in future audit queries,” he told the Nation.

The NLC boss said they were precluded by an initial court injunction on the parcel following a land dispute in the past.

Though the scheme’s board of trustees presented a court order that identified them as the rightful owners of the land, the online registry still bears the inhibition, making it difficult to pay the money.

Commissioners later urged the ministry to update the parcel’s file for it to release the funds but it expressed reservations about the proposal.

“We tried all we could but it is not possible without a clean search. There is no collusion with the ministry; there is no conspiracy whatsoever not to release the funds. We are simply following due process,” Mr Otachi said.

Despite acknowledging receipt of the queries posed by the Nation, the ministry had not responded by the time of going to press.