Unclaimed Assets Authority is sleeping on the job
When the government launched the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority (UFAA), it looked like a great idea whose time had come.
Assets worth billions of shillings that were being held by various financial institutions, with no hope of ever being reunited with their rightful owners, now had a clear path through which beneficiaries could take ownership.
Five years down the line, what is the scorecard? At a function last week, UFAA announced that it was sitting on Sh38 billion in assets, and that almost a million people were yet to reclaim their assets. These numbers have been growing. Of this, Sh13 billion is in cash, Sh564.5 million are in units of cash, and 1,454 are safe deposit boxes.
Further, UFAA estimated that Sh250 billion that should rightfully be under their custody was still being held by various institutions.
This is a less than stellar performance. What seems to be the problem? UFAA seems to have sat on their swivel chairs in Nairobi and let “nature take its course.” That is why Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i mobilised the government’s administrative machinery to help trace the owners of these assets.
He said county commissioners, deputy county commissioners, chiefs and their assistants would serve as agents of UFAA to trace owners of unclaimed assets.
UFAA cannot sit back and let others do the work for which it was established. Its work is not to “sit on assets,” but make sure they are reunited with the rightful owners. To achieve this, UFAA must become very aggressive. The Sh38 billion sitting in UFAA’s custody is an indictment of its performance.
The Authority’s bosses need to ask themselves several questions. How many Kenyans have ever heard of UFAA? How many know what the body does? How many people know the process of claiming their assets from the Authority?
These unclaimed assets represent widows struggling because a breadwinner died, orphans who are destitute yet money their parents left are lying in UFAA and beneficiaries who would be using the assets to better their lot economically. These are idle assets that should be playing a role in the economy. UFAA needs to see their role as economic empowerment and social security, not a bureaucratic and administrative one.
The place to start is through a countrywide awareness campaign until the organisation becomes a household name. This should not be just a media campaign. It must be done through religious organisations, markets, chiefs’ barazas and other grassroot forums so that any Kenyan who has been bereaved should feel compelled to go the Authority and do a search. UFAA needs to get out of Nairobi.
The body must open offices across the country. Every Kenyan must be capable of reaching its services at their nearest government administrative centre. The most important services to extend countrywide are search services. This can be done through agents at the level of sub counties, whether it is the offices of the deputy county commissioners, or agents such as banks with nationwide branches and secure systems.
This, surely, is something that should have been put in place ages ago. The Authority should also contract tracers, whose work will be to track down beneficiaries using the last known addresses of the deceased persons.
A clear and simplified claims system should be put in place because many claimants are obviously illiterate. They should not be tied up in bureaucratic knots to access their assets held in custody at UFAA.
Ironically, Matiang’i was launching a Rapid Results Initiative for the Authority. What Kenyans would have wanted to hear was the promise by UFAA to reunite the billions with the owners within a certain period. It is critical that UFAA does not become a silo for unclaimed billions. It is instructive to remember that the National Social Security Fund had at one time become a slush fund for politically correct individuals who plundered it with abandon because “the Fund had billions whose owners it was unable to trace.”
Matiang’i must keep the feet of the UFAA bosses very close to the fire.-