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Minors engaged in hard labour in tea farms

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By ANITA CHEPKOECH
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Minors are being enlisted to do back-breaking work for meagre wages in tea farms, the Saturday Nation has learnt.

School-going teenagers as young as 15 weed up to one acre of tea bushes in a day, a daunting task that has pushed some to use bhang in the belief that it can help them gain the strength needed to complete the job and earn a day’s salary of only Sh250.

In our visit to the tea farm, we find a number of boys slashing through Kaproret Estate, which belongs to James Finlay Kenya Ltd, a subsidiary of the Swire Group of London. Stretching his hand to greet us, we notice blackening blisters on Martin Otieno’s hand (not his real name).

The 17-year-old student at Kericho Day Secondary School is one of scores of minors working on informal contracts to earn the meagre, yet much-needed money to pay fees and supplement their family income.

“This holiday, I decided to find a job to support my parents in raising family income due to the challenges they go through in paying school fees, food and many other requirements,” said the young man.

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In the course of job-hunting, he tells us, his friends told him that they were working. When he showed interest, they led him to a subcontractor who hired him on the spot.

An unknown number of contractors are hired by James Finlay, who are paid between Sh600 and Sh700 per worker. The contractors, however, pay the workers they hire less than half of this amount.

James Finlay, which is facing financial difficulties and is even shutting down its flower section in phases, has resorted to using contractors as a way of reducing labour costs.

Slashing of bushes, tea picking, tea pruning, weeding and factory jobs are some of the opportunities available. Whereas tea picking is paid based on the number of kilos one harvests, the rest attract between Sh250 and Sh300 a day.

“The subcontractor told me ‘come with your slasher tomorrow’, so I went ahead and bought the tool,” narrated Otieno. “It takes time before tools can be issued to contracted workers, so if you desperately need a job, you better buy your own,” he adds.

Protective gear like industrial shoes, gloves, aprons and helmets are a luxury here; the puffy blisters and scars on their hands and feet are a testimony.

Lazima uvumilie (You must endure). And if you get hurt in the course of your work, like if you get a sprain or a cut, your foot the hospital bill yourself,” he explained, noting that he had already endured three weeks of hard work.

The story of James Sanya (not his real name), 15, is moving, especially when told in his shrill, yet- to-break voice. His parents were laid off from the company’s flower farm a few months ago as he prepared to sit his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. They did not even have money to transport their property home from the company’s workers’ quarters, which they were required to move out of after being laid off.

He borrowed some money from his parents and bought a slasher.

“When the company lost stability, I started this job as I had to bring some flour home,” says the teenager. “I go to work from 7am to midday. In a week, we agreed that the contractor will be paying me Sh1,300, but there are delays. I have been given two weeks’ pay out of the four I have worked. They gave me Sh2,600,” he explained.

Selected to join Ingotsi High School, he is currently trying hard to get his Form One fees. He hopes to have raised enough to bargain his way into the school by the reporting date.

The teenagers at times spend three days covering a day’s job, meaning that they end up earning less than Sh100 per day. That is why smoking bhang has become common among tea industry workers – as they believe that it helps boost their energy. Circulation of the “weed”, said to be sourced from Western Kenya, is an open secret. The teenagers, too, have picked up this silently practised tradition.

Alejandro Kibet (not his real name) admitted to using bhang. The 18-year-old student at Chemamul Boys in Bomet County says he has taken up two contracts, weeding and slashing, which call for extraordinary energy to clear in a day so as to earn Sh500.

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“By the time I complete both jobs, all strength is sucked out of my body. So I use some tablets to give me extraordinary strength. I buy them from the chemist,” he said. He claimed not to know the name of the tablets, only saying they are referred to as “strength-boosting tablets”. Upon further probing, he admits the substance is bhang, which is supplied to them by the older folks in the industry.

“Once I take it, I feel incredibly energetic. I don’t even need breakfast. I go straight into weeding an acre of tea and later finish with slashing, which I consider less punishing. You are given six long lines to slash. It’s your hard work that gets you out of the place. If you really need the money, you better finish,” he said.

He adds that he is the one who introduced a number of the youngsters working with him into the business.

Although most of the teenage workers are those who stepped in to help parents who were laid off before being re-employed on contract (with reduced pay and fewer benefits), others come from the neighbouring villages like Chepchabas and Chebang’ang’.

In this subcontracting arrangement, there are no contracts signed, nor are personal documents presented. The workers are therefore not recognised by James Finlay, neither do they access any benefits deserving of a formal employee. The contractor also changes terms at will because there is no formality, and therefore no way for anyone to seek redress in court. Nothing, even the scratch marks made by tea bushes on their legs, can help them prove they work at James Finlay.

Kibet, for instance, has never been paid for weeding since he started working this holiday, an amount he approximates to be Sh8,000.

“We have no say here because there are no written agreements. We are just desperate for money. We just follow what they say, lest you lose the opportunity,” said the 2020 candidate who is seeking to clear a fee balance of about Sh21,000, before he embarks on finding his final year’s fees. He has stopped depending on his parents so they can focus on his younger siblings.

He recalls last holiday when he cut his big toe with a hoe as he worked in open shoes. He had to painfully cough up Sh1,500 for treatment.

“Slashing has its risks too. You can be attacked by snakes, so you have to be careful because the subcontractor does not care. All they want is for the daily assignment to be complete. Payment comes later,” he says.

Just like his peers, Ben Omolo (not his real name), 16, a student at Uber Boys in Homa Bay County, pushes himself to earn the Sh250 a day. The job, he says, is hardly manageable, “but you have to work hard for life isn’t easy either”.

“I find it so hard because we have no protective clothes. Just like every other worker, we slash without protecting our hands, weed without gumboots, or raincoats when it rains,” he says.

The teenagers’ experiences point to a stark exploitation of underage citizens against the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards.

However, James Finlay’s Corporate Manager Sammy Kirui denied that children were being employed in the company.

“Contractors are not allowed to employ children under any circumstances. They sign a commitment to abide by our rules and regulations before commencing work. Those found flouting the rules are deregistered promptly,” said the manager.

Further, contractors are required to register their employees with estate managers, and have National Social Security Fund (NSSF), National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and insurance for their employees upon being awarded the tender.

Despite this, the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) has accused the company of not putting in place modalities to ensure these commitments are adhered to. KPAWU Kericho branch Secretary Dickson Sang says the contractors seem not to be bound by any law.

“They just bring in anyone from anywhere, they are paid some figure by the company and they retain some amount and they decide how much to pay the vibarua (labourers),” Mr Sang says.

“Our CBA with Finlay requires them to pay the employees Sh612 minimum wage per day. But you find that they give the contractor the same amount of money, which they mostly slash by more than half,” said the unionist. He added that the labourers are paid through M-Pesa or in cash.

Names changed to protect minors

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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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