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Two retired Kenyans in fight for embassy jobs

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By CHRIS WAMALWA
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Two former employees of the Kenyan embassy in Washington, DC have accused the ambassador to the US, Mr Robinson Njeru Githae, of wrongfully dismissing them from the consulate.

In an exclusive interview with the Nation and in a letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Jafred Musamba and Mr Joseph Asweto argue that their two-year contracts have not expired.

In the letter to ambassador Macharia Kamau, they ask the ministry to intercede so they are reinstated.

In termination letters issued on August, 24, 2018, the embassy says the two were dismissed after attaining retirement age.

“Records held in this office indicate that you attained the retirement age of 60 years on January 1, 2015. In accordance with Section D.21 of the Human Resources Policies and the Procedures Manual for the Public Service and Local Staff Regulations, one is required to retire from the service on attainment of the retirement age,” the letters seen by the Nation state in part.

The complainants, however, denied the embassy’s claim that they were fired because they reached age 60, saying 65 is the official age of retirement.

They did not deny that they are at least 60 years old. In this claim, they seem to be using the US retirement requirement, whose age is 65.

The complainants say: “In any case, our contracts bear no clause stating the retirement age. The embassy has therefore violated the two-year contracts which expire in October, 2019, by summarily firing us as if we had committed a criminal offence.”

Mr Musaba and Mr Asweto, who were hired locally, further argue that the ambassador used civil service policy manuals to get rid of them yet they are not civil servants.

Reached for comment, ambassador Githae dismissed the claims and insisted that the embassy did contravene any contractual agreements with the two.

“The truth is that the people we let go, including the two gentlemen, were supposed to have retired a long time ago. In fact, Mr Asweto came here after retiring from the civil service at home so he should be enjoying his retirement benefits,” he said. 

Mr Githae further said the US State Department recently issued a memo requiring all embassies and commissions accredited to the US not to employ local staff for more than five years.

Foreign missions apparently have two categories of employees— those from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Nairobi and others seconded from key ministries, and those sourced locally.

Mr Musumba, Mr Asweto and another female employee, who were axed recently, are those who were sourced locally.

Mr Githae said: “As you may already know, apart from attaining the retirement age, the two gentlemen were also the longest serving. It was only fair to start from the top down.”

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The ambassador also dismissed claims by the two that he fired them in order to employ his relatives, noting that their positions are being advertised openly.

“If you go to our website, you will see their positions advertised. We will conduct a fair and open recruitment process for these positions,” he said.

Asked whether they sought legal counsel, Mr Musamba and Mr Asweto said they wanted to bring the issue to the attention of Mr Kamau in Nairobi first.

“First of all, we are appealing to the ministry headquarters to intervene before it goes that far. Secondly, we need to be heard, especially by the ministry headquarters, which should come to our rescue because we did not deserve this. Even if it was a normal retirement, there’s always a notice to retire in a year. This was not followed,” Mr Asweto said.

Regarding notices of retirement, ambassador Githae said he issued a memo alerting the two of their impending retirement in July.

The complainants had worked at the embassy for more than 20 years.

There seems to be discrepancies in the terms of locally engaged staff at the Kenya mission to the UN in New York and the embassy in Washington, DC yet both are funded by the same government.

It’s believed that the retirement age factored into the contract for locally engaged staff at the Kenya mission to the UN in New York is officially 65, with the possibility of a three-year extension to 68. The staff at the mission also have a 13-month bonus pay.

The package was negotiated by Mr Kamau during his service there, prior to his appointment as PS.

Mr Musumba said: “My prayer is that the ministry will look into this matter and offer us a possible life line to allow us to retire honourably. I also pray that the ministry will find a way to harmonise the terms of locally engaged staff at the Kenya mission to the UN, the embassy in Washington, DC and the consulate in Los Angeles to prevent similar cases.”

The embassy is currently embroiled in controversy over the issuing of identity cards (IDs).

There were claims that ambassador Githae had been out-sourcing the issuance of identity cards to a private contractor, yet this work has always been done by embassy staff.

In a recent ID issuance exercise in Atlanta, many Kenyans were charged almost double and when they inquired, they were told that the rest of the money went to the contractor.

Regarding this allegation, Mr Asweto said: “It’s purely illegal. The way it is being done is illegal and should be stopped forthwith. The ambassador was advised by some of his senior staff at the embassy not to do it but he didn’t listen.

In his phone interview, Mr Githae reiterated that the claims were false and said the embassy resorted to working with a contractor because it was cheaper and the consulate did not have enough manpower.



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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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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