NITA den of corruption fueling Saudi maid abuse
State officials received bribes to clear hundreds of househelps headed for countries in the Middle East without the requisite training, leaving them vulnerable to culture shock and exposing them to employer conflicts that are partly to blame for maid abuse.
An internal probe at the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) has revealed that officials are diverting part of the training fees that run to almost Kes2 billion annually collected by NITA and training institutions from maids destined for the Middle East.
The investigations revealed candidates who had not taken the requisite training are regularly slipped into examiners’ lists while others were issued with transcripts for exams that they have no idea about let alone sitting for them.
The investigation also unearthed M-PESA transaction details and WhatsApp messages between State officials and a complainant who paid for the fake transcripts.
Overseas countries usually pay agencies in Kenya all the costs involved in processing the domestic workers which include a training fee of Kes15,000 per person wired to the training institutions, an assessment fee of Kes10,000 per person paid to NITA, travel costs, and visa/passport processing fee as well as the agency fee.
Between June 2021 and July 2022 a total of 100,000 trainees were processed translating to roughly Kes1 billion received by NITA and another Kes1 million channeled to roughly 300 training providers.
“There is an urgent need to transfer all junior officers in the department and replace them with vetted, qualified employees for the authority to ensure such is not repeated,” the report seen exclusively by Maudhui reads.
There has been an increase in reports by activists on domestic workers’ abuse even as hundreds of Kenyans line up to be shipped to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to work in near-slavish conditions for low-paying jobs such as housemaids, caregivers, drivers, and security guards.
Our email requests for comments on the findings from the NITA managing director went unanswered by the time of publishing this article.
Activists say domestic workers are often kept under lock and key by their employers, forced to work long hours, deprived of food, and are physically and sexually abused quite often.
Last year, former Foreign Affairs principal secretary Macharia Kamau blamed the abuse on the culture around housework in the Middle East, saying in countries such as Saudi Arabia their traditions on domestic chores are very ‘ancient’ so you find people who suffer terrible beatings and abuse are usually house helps.
Amb Kamau said the government has repeatedly called on agencies in Kenya to stop sending this category of workers to Saudi Arabia but they have chosen not to listen.
Central Bank of Kenya diaspora remittance data shows that oil-rich Saudi Arabia is now the second largest source of money sent by Kenyans abroad behind the leader, the United States of America.
Sources at the NITA explained that it is for this reason that the training manual was established to expose some of the girls who come from rural villages in Kenya to anticipate changes in cultural norms, and learn how to operate complex machines to avoid friction with their prospective bosses.
“We have seen things… There are those who even hire the electronics during inspections and then return them and do no training at all. So, when the girls go abroad like in Saudi Arabia where you are not even supposed to talk directly to employers, they are clueless on what to do,” the source said.
Ideally, the request for domestic workers is received from overseas to Kenya and handled by agencies who recruit the workers, mainly girls.
The candidates then have to undergo homecare training at an institution certified by NITA and are then examined by NITA. The authority also processes certificates and sends them to the training institution and a copy is dispatched to the National Employment Authority (NEA) which then gives qualified trainees the clearance to travel overseas.
In practice, however, the process is wrought with malpractices by the training institutions that offer inadequate coaching of the workers and at times use imposters to undertake assessments on behalf of the true candidates.
Other malpractices crippling the system include exam leakages, collusion between agencies and officials to award fake transcripts, and outright bribery.
The report was released early this year just a day before Aurelia Cheruto from Kartur village, Elgeyo Marakwet County, started deteriorating due to a lack of food for days forcing her to make appeals for help. Aurelia has since been rescued.
All NITA employees implicated in the malpractice should be asked to step aside to allow investigations to be done and completed, the report recommends. The report also called for the strengthening of the structures and processes in the assessment and certification process to ensure the integrity of data and that the staff are vetted as required.