Kenya: Hopes Dim for KCC Worker in Long Wait for Retirement Benefits

For over 10 years, Zachary Andare Okumu has endured a life of penury and untold suffering despite having a cheque worth hundreds of thousands of shillings in his name.

The 69-year-old former Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) employee is struggling to survive, years after his retirement, with no shelter, no food and a broken family.

The cheque, which represents payment of his retirement benefits for his 33 years of service, is the source of his pain and tribulations.

Mr Okumu lost his wife, his dreams for his family and is now almost giving up on life. When he retired from KCC's Eldoret branch in 2007, Mr Okumu had big plans for his old age.

His immediate goal was to move to his rural home in Sigomere in Ugunja Sub-county, Siaya County. His other plan was to file a case in court for the subdivision of his father's land to be shared among his siblings.

He planned to build his retirement home on his plot.

Next, he would take his two children to university and, finally, start a dairy business to help support his family.

Ruined retirement plans

"I had planned to buy several dairy cows once I built the house. I planned to delve full-time into farming," Mr Okumu says.

However, a decision by the company to withhold his funds messed up all his plans, turning his whole life upside down.

His retirement benefits, according to a letter from the Retirement Benefits Authority, totalled Sh143, 462 by 2007, following his 33 years of contribution to the KCC Junior Staff Pensions Scheme.

The company had, however, computed the amount as Sh68,000, prompting him to lodge a complaint with the RBA.

After a thorough assessment, the RBA in its communication to the company dated October 24, 2008 found that the trustees of the pensions scheme had erred in computing Mr Okumu's benefits.

However, the trustees challenged the decision before the Retirement Benefits Appeals Tribunal, which upheld the RBA's decision.

"We find the New KCC Junior Staff Pensions Scheme liable to pay the complainant the [money] accrued in the KCC [Unionisable] Staff Pensions Scheme herein alleged to have been paid to KCC Limited," read part of the ruling by the tribunal.

Wife's tragic death

Following the court's decision, Mr Okumu says the company called him on May 5, 2010 asking him to come for his cheque, which had the right amount.

"I received the cheque which I banked at the K-Rep Bank in Nairobi before returning home. I explained to my wife what had transpired and she was very happy. We began preparing to implement our plans," says Mr Okumu.

Three days later, he travelled to Eldoret to withdraw part of the money only to be met with shock after he was informed that the cheque had been stopped by the company.

"I was so confused. I didn't know what to do. I went back home," said Mr Okumu.

When he got home to an anxious wife, who was expecting good news from her husband, what she heard was too much for her to bear.

"After I told her what had happened, she could not believe it. There and then, she collapsed and died out of shock," he said.

After the burial, Mr Okumu went back to the company to report what had befallen his family and the only thing the company did was to offer him a truck to ferry his property from Eldoret to Siaya.

Living like a pauper

"They told me that they blocked the cheque because I went to announce that I had received my retirement benefits. I went back to the RBA who gave me the court judgement, advising me to use it when following up the case," he says.

When he went back to the company, Mr Okumu said he was told to wait as they sorted the matter.

Days turned into weeks which turned into months and later years. It's been five years since he was there last. In 2015 when he visited the office, he was gruffly sent away.

Meanwhile, his children's education was disrupted, two of them failed to join university while the remaining seven dropped out of high school.

The little savings he had was spent on legal fees and bus fare for the numerous trips he made to and from Nairobi.

Now stuck in Sigomere, Mr Okumu lives in an old grass-thatched house that he built when he was still a young man.

He has safely kept the cheque probably in the hope that, one day, it will pay out. But, for now, he lives like a pauper with no means to follow up the case.

"I can't believe the life I'm living now, knowing very well that I religiously made contributions for my retirement for over 30 years. Let the company pay me my money. It rightfully belongs to me," says Mr Okumu.

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