Former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta’s State pension has been increased to Sh679,800 monthly amid renewed scrutiny over her family’s multibillion-shilling wealth.
Mama Ngina’s pension was raised from Sh568,218 that she earned in 2018 at taxpayers’ expense for being the spouse of Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who died in 1978, Treasury documents seen by the Business Daily show.
The lavish retirement benefits offered to State officers and personalities like Mama Ngina has come under heavy criticism on grounds they exited public office with outsized wealth, including prime properties worth billions of shillings and vast business interests.
The former First Lady’s State payment is tied to the law that provides for a spouse of a sitting or a retired president to be paid 40 percent of the current salary paid to the sitting Head of State should their husband die.
But some lawyers reckon that the payment is not consistent with the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act, which took effect in January 2003.
They argue that the law cannot be applied retrospectively, signalling it should apply to the spouse of a sitting or retired president who died after 2003.
Mama Ngina’s personal wealth remains unknown, but the Kenyattas are considered one of Africa’s wealthiest families, with its vast business interests spanning transport, insurance, hotels, farming, land ownership and media in Kenya.
The Kenyatta family’s vast business empire is associated with well-known commercial brands and blue chip companies, including Brookside Dairies and NCBA Group.
The family’s wealth was recently in the spotlight after President William Ruto’s political allies called for a probe of the Kenyattas’ businesses tax records, amid claims they received waivers.
They also wanted counties to audit land rates paid by the Kenyattas on thousands acres they own across the country.
The push for the probe emerged weeks after Dr Ruto’s swearing-in after the Supreme Court upheld his victory following a petition by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who this time had the support of his former foe ex-President Uhuru Kenyatta.
A huge leak of financial dealings of the rich, dubbed Pandora papers, revealed in 2021 that the Kenyattas secretly owned a network of 13 offshore companies for decades.
The Kenyattas’ offshore investments had a company with stocks and bonds worth $30m and a secret foundation set up in 2003 in Panama naming Mama Ngina as the first benefactor and Uhuru as the second benefactor, who would inherit it after her death.
The Kenyatta family matriarch started receiving the State-backed monthly payment before her son, Uhuru, became President in 2013, officials at the Treasury say.
At 40 percent of the sitting president’s salary, Mama Ngina is entitled to a Sh576,000 monthly pay, which rises to Sh679,800 after factoring other benefits and increases that happen every two years.
“Spouse benefits upon the death of a serving President or of a retired President who is in receipt of or who is entitled to a pension under this Act, his surviving spouse shall be entitled to benefits amounting to fifty percent of such pension,” says the Presidential Retirement Benefits Act.
The monthly pension of a retired president is set at 80 percent of the current salary paid to the sitting President besides other perks like fuel, house and entertainment allowances.
Uhuru started receiving the Sh1.32 million monthly pay from December 1 and was paid a lump sum of Sh39.6 million, according to Treasury documents seen by the Business Daily.
The monthly payment of Mama Ngina, 90, has placed the former First Lady in a small and exclusive club that includes former top public officials who set back taxpayers more than Sh500 million every month to keep them comfortable in retirement.
This includes former vice-presidents Moody Awori and Kalonzo Musyoka and retired parliamentary speakers — Kenneth Marende, Francis ole Kaparo and Ekwee Ethuro — who are paid hundreds of thousands monthly besides juicy perks like fuel and medical allowance and tens of aides paid by the State.
The Treasury has set aside over Sh1 billion in the current financial year ending June to cater for the retirement benefits of the privileged former State officials in a package that also includes the pay and perks of opposition leader Raila Odinga for his role as Prime Minister between 2008 and 2013.
This underlines the taxpayers’ burden of keeping former State officials comfortable in retirement.
The Kenyatta family established its political and business interests during the 15-year rule of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta.
After his death, Mama Ngina, his fourth wife, played a pivotal role in expanding the family’s business interests, with the help of experienced international wealth experts, notably from private banks like the Swiss bank Union Bancaire Privée (UBP).
The Kenyattas control about 13.2 percent stake of NCBA Group, valuing their stake at Sh7.94 billion based on the bank’s market valuation of Sh60.2 billion at close of trading Thursday.
Other investments are Brookside Dairy —where the former President’s younger brother, Muhoho Kenyatta, sits as executive chairman — high-end Peponi School and the upmarket and chic hotel chain, Heritage Hotels East Africa.
The family is also linked to Media Max Company, which owns K24 TV, Kameme Radio and The People Daily newspaper.
It also owns thousands of acres of prime land across Kenya that was acquired by Jomo Kenyatta in the 1960s and 1970s under a settlement transfer fund scheme that allowed government officials to acquire land from the British.
The family’s commercial empire grew during Uhuru’s presidency, with expansion plans, buyouts and mergers taking centre stage.