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M-Pesa Bank? MPs seek CBK regulation

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By EDWIN MUTAI
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Members of Parliament are pushing for the delinking of mobile money services from telecommunication firms and their registration as separate commercial banks in a move that could alter the competition landscape for digital cash providers.

If MPs have their way, the telecommunications regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), will be compelled to ensure that mobile money services like Safaricom’s M-Pesa, Airtel Money and Telkom’s T-Kash are licensed as banks.

The telecommunication firms will then be licensed to only offer voice, data and SMS services.

Senate Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki has tasked the committees on ICT and that of Finance and Budget to jointly scrutinise a statement filed by Narok Senator Ladema ole Kina, asking the committees to inquire and report on various aspects of financial services being offered by the telecommunication firms.

It is not the first time that Parliament is seeking to have mobile money services brought under full regulation of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

Banks have been quietly pushing for tighter regulation of the mobile money space, arguing that lighter rules had enabled the telcos to offer services at a much cheaper rate and higher speed than they can.

The telecommunication firms have, however, argued that tighter regulation will stifle innovation, roll back the gains made in deepening financial inclusivity as well deny customers the efficiency associated with mobile money.

The National Assembly’s Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) committee chaired by Marakwet West MP William Kisang early this month directed the CBK to publish regulations that will see interest rates charged by more than 500 unregulated digital micro-lenders controlled by the banking sector watchdog.

The team asked the banking regulator to ensure the digital lenders are guided by the control on cost of loans introduced in 2016 within six months of adoption of the report.

Mobile money firms and microlenders are currently allowed to skirt a legal cap on cost of loans at four percentage points above the central bank’s benchmark rate.

“The interest rates should be those applicable to commercial banks for standardisation,” the committee said in a report tabled in Parliament.

The proliferation of lenders using mobile money technology to extend credit to the banked and unbanked alike has saddled borrowers with high interest rates.

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Their entry was in response to a rise in demand for quick loans and the freeze in commercial bank lending to individuals and small business, which followed the capping of interest rates in 2016.

The lenders, who are charging borrowers annualised interest of between 18 percent and 200 percent, have tapped into a market that has become more lucrative than mainstream banking where lending rates are capped by law at 13 percent. The list of seasoned players in this market includes Letshengo, Tala, Izwe and Branch, while new market entrants include digital lending platforms such as Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed firm Car & General.

Mr ole Kina also wants the Senate ICT committee to issue a report on the protection of consumer data by telecommunication companies.

“The committee should explain the regulatory framework for financial transactions including loans and promotions transacted through mobile telecommunication companies,” he said.

He also wants to know whether the interest charged on loans and other credit facilities advanced to customers by or through mobile companies adhere to the law on interest capping.

The Senate’s ICT and Budget committees will inquire into safeguards to ensure lending services by telecommunication companies do not bring down the economy in case companies collapse or shut down.

“The committee should state whether financial services being offered by the telecommunications companies can be delinked from those companies and registered as financial companies,” Mr ole Kina said.

He also wants to know whether measures have been put in place to ensure consumer data obtained by the mobile telecommunication companies and other companies using the mobile platform for financial promotions don’t fall in the hands of criminal entities or being used for identity theft.

“The committee should explain whether mobile telecommunication companies can set up a mechanism to alert mobile phone users when their national ID numbers are used to register a new phone number,” the Narok lawmaker said.

He is also seeking to know if mobile telecommunication companies and third parties such as banks have a safe data-sharing platform between each other for protecting the consumers, such as reversal of erroneous financial transactions.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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