Unclaimed assets hit Sh55bn as owners keep off


Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority (UFAA) Chairman Richard Kiplagat. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

Unclaimed assets have hit Sh54.8 billion, turning the agency into another financial black hole that is aggressively collecting billions of shillings every year but failing to find its owners.

Latest data shows the Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority (Ufaa) is sitting on the billions in idle cash, shares and dividends and is struggling to reconcile the growing haul to its legitimate owners.

Ufaa revealed that it only received 2,315 claims between October and December last year worth Sh270 million.

Since 2014, the authority has received 23,134 claimants seeking Sh1.5 billion as investors, including tycoons, show disinterest in claiming the idle assets.

Kenyans remain disinterested in pursuing funds legally belonging to them or their families despite the tough economic conditions made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Claims amounting to Sh1.5 billion from 23,134 claimants have been received to date. Out of these, 13,940 claims (valued at Sh989 million), 23,920,854 units of shares, 35 safe deposit boxes and 15 Unit Trust have been reunited,” Ufaa said in an email response.

The value of the idle assets grew from Sh50.9 billion in June last year to Sh54.8 billion in December.

The money is largely held by insurance companies, banks, pension schemes, law firms, mobile phone money wallets and Saccos, among others.

The majority of the funds is held in stocks of a billion shares worth Sh30 billion and 9.8 million unit trust portfolios worth Sh55 million.

The Authority is also holding Sh23.1 billion in cash and Sh120 million in foreign currency which it can invest in government securities, meaning the government is the biggest beneficiary of the idle money.

Surrendered safe boxes that are believed to contain jewellery, title deeds, share certificates and Treasury bills rose to 2,949 units from 2,873 in June.

This is a small portion of what is estimated to be held by private and public players mainly because Ufaa has not been able to cover all institutions.

A baseline survey commissioned in 2018 estimated that Sh241 billion in unclaimed financial assets was still unreported to Ufaa by public agencies and private firms.

The report further showed that approximately 477,112 public and private entities hold these assets in their books.

Ufaa recently announced a partnership that will see the auditor general Nancy Gathungu’s office conduct audits on public sector agencies on compliance with unclaimed financial assets reporting and surrender.

Currently, the authority hires private firms and conducts 10 public sector audits each year.

Unclaimed assets include money in bank accounts that have been dormant for more than five years, bankers cheques not cashed and contents in safe deposit boxes unclaimed for more than two years.

Billionaire business owners, former powerful government officials and prominent politicians are on the long list of individuals whose shares have been surrendered to the Treasury.

Reporting and surrender of unclaimed financial assets by all holders is mandatory and is due on or before November 1 every year. Holders are encouraged to file nil returns if applicable.

The law allows Ufaa to charge any entity that fails to surrender unclaimed assets a penalty of 25 percent of the assets held.

Besides, the authority levies a penalty of between Sh7,000 and Sh50,000 for each day that the assets stayed before being submitted.

The law requires the holding company to search for the rightful owners before declaring it unclaimed and forwarding it to the Ufaa.

Most of the unclaimed assets are attributed to failure by the deceased to inform the beneficiaries of the assets besides the absence of a Will.

Wealthy Kenyans are also shying away from claiming the billions of shillings in idle assets surrendered to the State.

The Ufaa reckons it is struggling to link the cash with their rightful owners or beneficiaries, claiming some are being turned off by the worth of assets under the Treasury’s custody.

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