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."
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.