United Nations employees in Nairobi are seeking diplomatic intervention to have their house rent deposits refunded whenever they vacate their houses, accusing Kenyan landlords of extorting them.
In a letter addressed to Ambassador Rose Makena Muchiri, the Permanent Representative to the Kenya Mission for United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), the staff claim that their landlords have been raising unjustified expense claims to hold their house rent deposits whenever their tour of duty in the country comes to an end.
Most UN staff live in upmarket neighbourhoods such as Runda, Spring Valley, Gigiri and Kilimani where they pay between Sh150,000 to Sh400,000 in house rent per month.
The landlords ordinarily require that they pay the equivalent of two months' rent as deposit at the beginning of their lease periods.
The money is meant to be refundable at the end of their tenancy. However, the UN tenants claim that landlords are in most cases hesitant to refund the deposits at the end of their stay in Kenya.
"It is now widely-acknowledged that one of the key negative reasons expats and UN staff are apprehensive of serving in Kenya is this threat. I believe this is causing serious reputational damage that could be unwarranted if addressed properly and transparently," says UN Nairobi Staff Union president Martin Njugihu in the letter.
Mr Njugihu terms the trend as being injurious to Kenya's reputation as a host country to the prestigious international organisation.
The union now wants the Rent Tribunal to visit the UN complex in Gigiri to assess some of the outstanding cases for guidance.
"UN Nairobi Staff Union will form a committee that will explore various options available to tackle this issue. We believe the matter has reached such a level that requires immediate action," says the letter.
The United Nations contribution to the Kenyan economy is estimated to be in excess of $350 million (Sh35 billion) annually, which is four times more foreign exchange than coffee brings in.
A 2004 study by the UN Development Programme found that the UN provided the only steady source of foreign exchange in the late 1990s, bringing in more money than even horticulture or tourism then.
UN GDP CONTRIBUTION
The UN's contribution was equivalent to three percent of the gross national product, or 19 percent of exports, and was second only to tea.
The economic significance of the UN presence in the country is also reflected in other numerous areas of socio-economic development, including real property rental values.
For instance, the country receives approximately $10.34 million in rental premiums from residential houses in areas popular with the UN international staff, such as Runda, Gigiri, Muthaiga, Spring Valley, Nyari and Riverside.
Less than half of the $350 million contributed by the UN annually comes from direct programme assistance.
The rest accrues from payments made by UN employees for goods and services, including items such as wages for domestic servants, gardeners, guards and drivers.
This story was first published by the Business Daily.