• There is indignity in the manner the money is given out. There is spite.
• There is deliberate carelessness in the way banks handle senior citizens and their agents when they go for the stipend.
M-Pesa, the mobile telephony money service, is celebrated because it is convenient: It's a receive-cash-and-spend at the touch of a button. It's fast and dignified.
But the implementers of the 'Inua Jamii' programme are still subjecting vulnerable senior citizens and their agents to long queues at bank counters. The agents wait for a pittance at best, and nothing on many occasions.
Inua Jamii means empowering families – giving households a hand in a society where the elderly suffer gross neglect. This was intended to be a noble initiative because the humanity of a society is measured by how it treats its vulnerable senior citizens.
Launching Inua Jamii in June last year at Inchuui Primary School in Tigania East, Meru, President Uhuru Kenyatta underscored the reasoning behind the idea. "This programme will ensure that our senior citizens get a Sh4,000 stipend bimonthly to live a dignified and respectable life."
The initiative is a social pillar of Vision 2030, a national development blueprint.
But Inua Jamii, a non-contributory pension fund, remitted directly to senior citizens, is taking its toll on the elderly.
A case of a 90-year-old man and his daughter-in-law, which could mirror untold tales of others, shows how Inua Jamii is breaking families. The daughter-in-law is the recognised agent of this senior citizen.
Old people suffer indignity in the hands of dishonest caregivers... There is no dignity in expecting 90-year-olds to travel tens of kilometres to earn a mean stipend
The recognition begins with the family, the assistant chief, the chief, and the paying bank. It is a process of documentation, fingerprinting, and issuance of a bank pay card.
The family agreed the daughter-in-law would be the authorised signatory for mzee's bimonthly stipend of Sh4,000 or Sh2,000 a month. She would travel to the nearest Kenya Commercial Bank, in this case in Homa Bay town, to collect the stipend.
Sometimes the daughter-in-law would deliver, but in many cases she would make her own deductions. When she taxes mzee, she would insist the net payout was the money received.
At one time the stipend did not arrive for six months. The wait was long, and the expectation was high. When Sh12,000 arrived, the daughter-in-law declared Sh6,000. She kept half for her own use. Meanwhile, mzee had been informed of the total receipt. She disappeared for three weeks.
Months later she collected Sh8,000, but reported Sh4,000. She went missing for weeks, visiting her parents in another part of the county. At another time, Sh4,000 arrived, but the beneficiary received Sh2,000.
A report to the assistant chief and the chief saw mzee's agent disappear for weeks to avoid tongue lashes. The 35-year-old is sharing the stipend with the bed-bound mzee. The agent has been away for a month now, leaving mzee angry and hungry.
The mzee, a veteran of the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, tells his Inua Jamii experience to anyone who visits him. He wants you to know the indignity they suffer in the hands of dishonest caregivers.
A reliable mobile telephone account can be a direct and cost-effective way of paying out to senior citizens.
Senior citizens struggle to get the stipend and some lose their dignity in the process. It is not what you give the old people that counts, how they are treated counts for their dignity.
There is indignity in the manner the money is given out. There is spite. There is deliberate carelessness in the way banks handle old people and their agents when they go for the stipend.
Sometimes banks’ fingerprint identifiers don't capture the identities of the agents. When this happens, it becomes a costly back-and-forth struggle. Sometimes this runs for days and weeks.
Worse, this is happening in the digital age, under the supervision of the Jubilee government, a regime that claimed to be technologically savvy in 2013. The regime's analogue regression is happening at Equity Bank, Co-operative Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank— financial institutions that have corporate images to protect.
Tales of wait, come tomorrow, next week, or the other week, without a specific time to collect the money, are numerous. Tales of the money has not arrived are familiar. Sometimes senior citizens, and their agents spend the money before it is received.
The banks need a better way of paying out to the beneficiaries. Expecting 90-year-olds to travel tens of kilometres to earn a mean stipend is not one of the ways. A reliable mobile telephone account can be a direct and cost-effective way of paying out to senior citizens.