Cybersecurity firm OnNet Africa also had a hand in ending Forkbombo’s reign of terror, as it shared crucial information on the hackers with relevant authorities over the years, making the crooks predictable.
The 12 hackers arrested in Rwanda in 2019 were served eight-year jail terms and fined Sh6 million two weeks ago by a Rwandan court.
Forkbombo, formed by ex-Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) cybercrime detective Calvin Otieno Ogalo, terrorised corporates and government institutions until 2017 when they attacked the Kenya Police Sacco.
After intercepting communication between Mr Ogalo’s group and two American nationals believed to be part of the hacking syndicate, detectives finally pounced on the cybergang and found evidence that was used to charge 11 individuals with hacking the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).
Police presented 10 suspected members of the hacking group to court for prosecution on March 28, 2017. Another member, Alex Mutungi Mutuku, was charged a week later for causing the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to lose Sh3.9 billion.
One of the schemes the hackers ran at KRA was to help unscrupulous businessmen register imported vehicles without paying the required taxes. For a fee, the hackers would doctor the businessmen’s accounts with the KRA and clear the vehicles for use locally pending number plate allocation.
Forkbombo had been known to hack into the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) system. It is not too far-fetched to imagine that the group may also have manipulated the State agency’s website to approve number plate allocations to the same businessmen.
The prosecution of 11 Forkbombo members nearly relegated the hacker group to history books.
Feared team of hackers
Its top boss, Mr Ogalo, was in custody. So was his top lieutenant and likely the most talented hackers, Mr Mutuku.
Mr Mutuku spent 40 days in police custody before he was eventually granted bail by the chief magistrate’s court. For the first time since 2013, Forkbombo’s operations seemed to have stalled.
The third in command at the syndicate, Mr Reuben Kirogothi Mwangi, saw a power vacuum and decided to fulfil his ambition to lead the feared team of hackers.
Mr Mwangi was one of the early recruits brought in by Mr Ogalo, and was also one of the first Forkbombo hackers to get arrested and charged for theft through manipulation of computer systems.
He was charged with four other Forkbombo members in 2013 for aiding in the theft of Sh80 million from the Judiciary, by making fraudulent payments to firms that had not supplied any goods or services.
Mr Mwangi paid his Meerkats (K) Ltd Sh6.6 million.
Other Forkbombo members who paid themselves from the Judiciary’s coffers were Henry Achoka through Bonarza Agencies (Sh12 million), Duncan Bokella through Integrated Real Estate Services (Sh7.5 million) and Martin Murathe through Williams Logistics (Sh3.9 million).
Mr Mwangi and Mr Achoka absconded court two years after being charged.
In filling the vacuum created by the arrest of Mr Ogalo and other members of the gang, Mr Mwangi garnered the support of four surviving senior members of the Forkbombo group, as he looked to pick up the pieces and regroup.
Erick Dickson Njagi, Godfrey Gachiri and Erickson Macharia Kinyua backed Mr Mwangi.
Multimillion shilling heists
They recruited another four individuals – Dedan Muchoki Muriuki, Samuel Wachira Nyuguto, Damaris Njeri Kamau and Steve Maina Wambugu before crossing over to Rwanda via Uganda in 2019.
By this time, the surveillance authorities placed on Forkbombo members was so intense, and security agencies across East Africa were happy to cooperate in sharing any information that would protect corporates from the multimillion shilling heists.
As soon as Mr Mwangi and his rebranded Forkbombo group crossed into Uganda in 2018, Interpol officers in Kenya alerted Ugandan authorities of the hackers’ movements, and warned that some corporates could be on the brink of losing millions.
In mid-June 2019, Mr Mwangi and his crew executed a salami attack at the Development Finance Company of Uganda (DFCU) Bank, but it took an entire month before the lender knew what had happened.
Forkbombo got two DFCU workers to plant their infamous software in computers owned by the lender.
For an entire month, the software slowly withdrew Ush700 million (Sh21.4 million) from depositors’ accounts.
This time, rather than buy ATM cards from desperate bank customers, Forkbombo went a step further and registered dummy bank accounts at DFCU. The two junior DFCU workers then collected several debit cards handed over by customers for renewal.
As the surrendered ATM cards had been deactivated, Forkbombo used its hackers to reactivate them and make withdrawals in small batches.
Much like any salami attack, the big one was yet to hit.
Siphon customers’ funds
In mid-July, DFCU discovered that Ush8 billion (Sh244 million) had been siphoned from several customers at a go.
Just as it was with Kenyan lenders that suffered under Forkbombo, DFCU’s internal monitoring system was unable to notice any irregularities between June and July, 2019 when millions was being silently siphoned from its accounts.
The lender reported the matter to police in Kampala, and the two junior DFCU workers were arrested alongside the two mules Forkbombo recruited to help withdraw the money. Forkbombo thought it had made a clean getaway.
Mr Mwangi and his crew lay low for nearly four months, before crossing into Rwanda where they would eventually suffer failure.
Authorities in Uganda may have failed to nab the hackers in Kampala, but were still keeping close tabs on Mr Mwangi and his crew.
No sooner had the hackers crossed into Uganda than police and Interpol officers in Kampala warned the Rwandan authorities of what was about to happen to banks.
The group arrived in Kigali in early October and started scouting for their next victim.
Intelligence operatives informed the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) that the hackers were targeting a minimum of four banks, including Kenyan-owned Equity Bank.
Towards the end of October, Forkbombo did a trial run by trying to get into Equity’s Eazzypay system to siphon customers’ funds. The hack failed, and the crooks retreated to reorganise their plans.
Forkbombo’s recruitment process
Rwanda’s strength in intelligence would prove to be too much for the hacker group, and it eventually led to 20 individuals – eight Kenyans, 11 Rwandans and one Ugandan – finally being locked up for cybercrime.
Equity Bank’s Kigali branch was also aware that the hackers were in town, and swiftly volunteered information it had to security authorities.
Mr Mwangi and his crew were approaching vulnerable low income earners like househelps and casual labourers to fill up vacancies in the money mule department.
Some money mules informed various security authorities, including Equity’s internal department, of the “job” offers they received.
Equity in turn told the RIB of Forkbombo’s ongoing recruitment process.
Equity Rwanda boss, Hannington Namara, told Kigali-based media outlet Taarifa Rwanda that perhaps Mr Mwangi and his crew underestimated the honesty levels in the country.
“In some countries in the region, everyone wants a deal, in this country, never. So, they did not know that the security apparatus and framework here is different. They had been here for days,” Mr Namara said.
The RIB and Equity teamed up and decided to lay in wait.
The lender ensured that the software protecting its finance management system was ready to detect any irregular access of bank accounts.
Detectives at the RIB on their part started monitoring the people Mr Mwangi and his crew would talk to. Some of the recruited mules were also approached, and a few of them became double agents, informing police of any new information from the hackers.
Pounced on Forkbombo crew
Both parties then lay in wait, as the mules eventually gave away the location of the Forkbombo crew.
Equity Bank Kigali’s internal monitoring system fired a warning a few minutes past midnight on November 1, 2019.
Security teams responding to the warning of an anomaly knew what was happening. Mr Mwangi and his team were trying to infiltrate the system.
Equity’s security informed the RIB of the attack, and detectives quickly pounced on the Forkbombo crew.
In what could mean that Rwanda enjoys the swiftest of justice systems in East Africa, it took less than two years to conduct the trial and get a conviction in a complex case involving several individuals.
The case was largely delayed last year on account of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects, which saw Rwanda forced to implement lockdowns in some months of 2020, an indication that judges would have concluded the matter in less than a year.
But while Forkbombo is finally history, there are still several hacker groups in Kenya and East Africa that are causing banks and other institutions huge losses.
Cybersecurity firm OnNet Africa has already issued several warnings about Silent Cards, an offshoot of Forkbombo that was formed in 2017.
Forkbombo members who were not on board with a Reuben Mwangi leadership left and formed Silent Cards.
Silent Cards in 2019 executed a heist on a local bank and made away with Sh400 million, one of the single largest amounts ever stolen at a go in Kenya. – nation.co.ke
Ex-cardinal Angelo Becciu, who served as the equivalent of a papal chief of staff for Pope Francis before being fired last year. He has been charged with crimes including embezzlement and abuse of office.
A once-powerful Catholic cardinal and nine others stand trial at the Vatican this week in an embezzlement scandal that allegedly saw charity funds used in a ruinous London property venture.
Ex-cardinal Angelo Becciu, who served as the equivalent of a papal chief of staff for Pope Francis before being fired last year, has been charged with crimes including embezzlement and abuse of office.
It is the first time a cardinal has been indicted by Vatican criminal prosecutors and Becciu, 73, will be the headliner of a trial set to last months.
The defendants face jail time or stiff fines if found guilty.
The alleged graft will have enraged Francis, 84, who has vowed all-out war on corruption and has increased oversight of the Vatican’s finances, dogged for decades by scandal.
Tuesday’s hearing is expected to be purely technical and the trial, held in a makeshift courtroom in the Vatican Museums, may be adjourned to after the summer break.
It was not clear whether Becciu, stripped of his red biretta, will be present.
It follows a two-year probe into how the Secretariat of State — the key department in the Vatican’s central administration — managed its vast asset portfolio and, in particular, who knew what about a disastrous 350-million-euro ($415 million) London investment.
Two London-based Italian financiers were involved in buying the 17,000-sq metre building — a former Harrods warehouse in Chelsea intended for conversion into luxury apartments.
Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione are charged with embezzlement, fraud and money laundering.
The building’s purchase at an inflated price meant “substantial losses for the Vatican, and dipped into resources intended for the Holy Father’s personal charitable work”, the Holy See said before the trial.
The first part of the purchase happened while Becciu was No. 2 at the Secretariat of State, and in charge of the purse strings.
Between 2013 and 2014, the Secretariat of State borrowed over 200 million dollars, mainly from Credit Suisse, to invest in Mincione’s Luxembourg fund. Half went to buying part of the London property.
The rest was for stock market investments, but Mincione used it for high-risk ventures. The Holy See, which had no control over where the money went, tried to pull out in 2018.
Torzi was brought in and tasked with brokering the purchase of the rest of the building and cutting ties with Mincione — but he instead allegedly joined forces with him.
He arranged for the Holy See to give Mincione £40 million (48 million euros; $55 million) for the shares in the part of the London building it did not already own.
But Torzi then allegedly inserted a clause into the paperwork which gave himself control of the property. He is accused of demanding 15 million euros to relinquish control.
Mincione and Torzi were helped, prosecutors claim, by Enrico Crasso, a former Vatican investment manager, and employee Fabrizio Tirabassi, both of whom face a series of charges including fraud.
Embarrassingly for Francis, among those standing trial are two men previously tasked with regulating Holy See finances, including the former head of its financial regulator, Swiss lawyer Rene Bruelhart.
‘The Cardinal’s lady’
Becciu has been charged with embezzlement and abuse of office over the purchase of the London property.
He has also been charged in relation to donations totalling over 800,000 euros he is accused of making to a charity run by his brother.
Becciu is also linked to defendant Cecilia Marogna — dubbed “the Cardinal’s lady” by the Italian press — accused of pocketing money earmarked for freeing captive priests and nuns abroad.
Prosecutors claim the top hierarchy in the Vatican — including pope ally Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Becciu’s boss — were in favour of the London venture, without realising what was going on.
Becciu, who has denied any wrongdoing, says he is the victim of a plot.
Deputy President William Ruto and his allies were yesterday up in arms against a ruling by the African Court on Human rights in Arusha that gave countries the green light to postpone elections over Covid-19.
The DP accused sitting presidents in Africa of attempting to extend their rule under the guise of fighting the pandemic.
“Postponing elections is not a remedy for the Covid19 pandemic. The solution lies in rolling out a comprehensive vaccination programme that will ensure more Kenyans are safe from infection and ready to engage in their everyday hustles. Postponing elections is just an excuse by ineffective administrations to hang on to power,” the DP told the Nation through his press secretary Emmanuel Talam.
The court ruled that treaties signed by African Union (AU) member states allow for postponing of elections in the event of a disaster that threatens the well-being of citizens, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused the deaths of thousands on the continent.
But any government that wants to postpone elections must do so using the laws in its country. This means that if a country’s laws do not provide for postponement, lawmakers must come up with regulations to define and govern the process.
The Pan-African Lawyers Union (Palu), which sought the advisory opinion, had asked the court to issue rules and guidelines for postponement of elections by AU members. Palu draws its membership from lawyers and law societies in African countries, and has been formally recognised by the AU since 2006. Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi said they were not part of the process.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika and Garissa Township MP Aden Duale claimed that a number of presidents were behind the petition filed last year.
“There will be an election on August 9, 2022 as per the Constitution of Kenya. The court advisory doesn’t supersede the constitution. Let everyone prepare for the elections on the said date and those winding up to finish and go,” the senator said.
Mr Duale added: “It’s only he courts in Kenya which can make such a determination.”
Senior counsel Paul Muite argued that postponing elections is more of a political decision than legal.
“Periodic election dates are fixed in the constitutions of respective countries. It is true elections can be postponed, but this is a decision that must be made consciously given it is very divisive. Each country must weigh the political risks and the environment it finds itself in before postponing the elections without which it can be catastrophic,” Mr Muite said.
Those rooting for the adoption of the advisory opinion argue that Kenya, being a signatory to the charter creating the court, should enforce it.
Debate on whether the 2022 elections should be postponed has been raging for some time now with Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni planning to petition the High Court to defer the General Election to give the electoral commission sufficient time to conduct boundary delimitation.
But being a leading Jubilee MP and the chairman of the National Assembly Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee, the DP thinks Mr Kioni is acting on behalf of allies of President Uhuru Kenyatta keen to extend his stay in power.
“We had a meeting today with some of the affected members (MPs who risk having their constituencies scrapped for not meeting the population quota). We have agreed on another session next Wednesday in Mombasa,” Mr Kioni said yesterday even as he lauded the decision by the.
The lawmaker holds that going into elections without changing the laws would see thousands of voters disenfranchised.
Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli, a close ally of the President and his Handshake partner Mr Raila Odinga, is a leading voice in the push to have elections held at a later date.
“Covid-19, imminent post-election violence, natural disasters and anything that has a great threat to human life are reasons enough to postpone any election considering the value attached to human life,” Mr Atwoli argued.
He added: “And this forms the premise upon which I anchor my arguments on why the 2022 General Elections should and can be postponed. Of importance is that my support for BBI (Building Bridges Initiative) is not out of thin air. I do so believing that the proposals as contained in the BBI will greatly improve the political stability of the country moving forward,” Mr Atwoli argues.
Allies of the DP charge that the President and Mr Odinga, having suffered a setback after the High Court stopped the BBI, want to postpone the polls to allow them time to appeal the judgment, and still be able to amend the supreme law before a new government is elected.
At least 13 African countries are scheduled to hold elections in 2021 while Kenya is scheduled to hold hers in August, 2022.
While President Kenyatta’s administration has insisted that there are no plans to postpone the 2022 elections, a section of politicians has alleged that the Executive plans to push the voting.
Palu filed the advisory opinion in June, last year. The African Court on Human rights notified AU member states of the petition on August 11. Interestingly, no African country presented any argument, whether in support or opposition, of election postponement to shield citizens from Covid-19.
The Centre for Human Rights Law at Saos University (London) was allowed to participate in the advisory opinion on behalf of the Journal of African Law, a publication of Cambridge University.
The Saos University department curiously claimed that elections had been postponed in Kenya, which is still approximately 13 months away from its General Election.
Part of Palu’s request was hinged on the fact that the pandemic has forced most countries to curtail some constitutional requirements like the right to movement and association, which directly relate to political rallies and public campaigns by election candidates. With many countries, Kenya included, banning public rallies, some candidates for various positions in government may suffer a disadvantage in campaigning for votes.
The ban of political rallies in countries like Kenya has also affected voters’ right to participate in the government of their countries.
The AU’s judicial arm said in its ruling that countries which decide to hold elections amid a pandemic must put in place measures to ensure a free, fair and transparent process for all stakeholders including contestants and voters.
And in deciding on whether to hold or postpone elections, African governments have been advised to consult with the political class, health officials and the civil society, which largely draws its membership from activists and governance experts. – nation.co.ke
Before committing your hard-accrued savings into business, it is important to make sure that you have chosen the right business idea, have enough capital, a realistic market entry strategy and a definite market niche.
Job losses and pay cuts since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March last year has seen a record number of individuals rush to start their own businesses in a quick survival race.
Data from the Business Registration Service (BRS) shows that 154,155 businesses were registered between July last year and last month, a 30 percent rise from the 118,609 start-ups that were set up in the preceding 12 months.
This number does not capture the thousands of unregulated businesses that sprout up annually especially in informal settlements and rural areas, a factor that highlights the rising appetite and need for new and additional sources of income to cope up with a rising cost of living.
However, it is estimated that for various reasons, a third, or 51,384 businesses that were registered over the past year will not survive beyond their second birthday, a worrying statistic that sheds light on a ruthless business environment that needs skill, strategy and resolve to navigate.
Starting a business
While it is the most preferred means of investment and growing one’s income, starting a business is not the only way to grow your money, therefore, before withdrawing the last bit of your hard-accrued savings from your bank, Sacco or chama and committing it into that long-held business idea, it is important to make sure that you have chosen the right business idea, have enough capital, a realistic market entry strategy and a definite market niche.
Dr Wanjiru Kibe, the lead consultant at Finesse Consulting, points out that an investor should identify market segments that offer the best return on investment to maximise earnings on the initial capital.
“There are many profitable businesses you can start in Kenya without a lot of capital… the only challenge with starting a business is that you are in it for life and cannot cash in and out like happens in the stock market if you make a mistake,” she cautions.
The labour-intensive nature of starting and running a business means that it is not the best investment vehicle for everyone, especially individuals who have less time but want to grow their money safely.
Mutual funds include money market funds, equity funds and fixed income funds, they allow individuals to harness the full power of economies of scale by pooling their resources together to invest in highly liquid assets such as bills and bonds.
This diversification spreads investment risks across the portfolio, which minimises some of the inherent risks of going out all alone in business, for example, and generates a steady stream of income at periodic intervals.
Data from the Capital Markets Authority shows that assets being managed by mutual funds in Kenya have grown 85 percent during the past two years alone from Sh56.6 billion in March 2018 to Sh104.7 billion in December last year, highlighting their growing popularity as viable investment tools.
The stock market, Dr Kibe says, gives individuals fertile soil to cultivate their money as it does not require significant capital to start trading. Listed stocks at the Nairobi Securities Exchange allow individuals to do their own research to identify the best possible companies to invest in based on market performance and future growth prospects. However, the financial advisor notes that stocks come with a significant measure of risk and can be quite scary to new entrants in the trade, and that it requires pragmatic trading and making of shrewd moves if you spot an opportunity in the market.
Investing in stocks also allows you to shield your investment from inflation which reduces the value of your money, is highly liquid as it can be bought or sold fairly quickly, and exposes your dividends income to relatively lower tax rates compared to other forms of investment.
For instance, your dividend income is only charged a 5 percent tax unless you hold a 12.5 percent voting power or more in the company that is paying the dividend, compared to numerous licenses, levies, operational costs and turnover tax that your income will be subjected to in a business.
Treasury bills and bonds
But if you are risk-averse and do not want to bet on a business that may collapse, stocks that may lose value and wipe your savings or mutual funds that may fold, putting your money in the safe treasury bills and bonds, Dr Kibe advises, could be your best bet yet.
Treasury bills and bonds are a debt instrument used by the government to borrow locally to finance its operations, and earn investors returns on their money over a short period of time.
“If you do not want to lose even a single cent of your money, consider buying a treasury bill which you can get even for as low as Sh50, 000, or a treasury bond, which now goes for Sh100, 000 or Sh200, 000. You can buy these through the Treasury’s online savings bond portal. Treasury bills take 21 days to mature, while bonds run for two years, others five years and above,” Dr Kibe says.
Fixed deposit savings account
The financial advisor says that individuals can also earn tidy income annually from interest accrued on savings in a fixed deposit account at a reputable bank.
“If you are very conventional, then you can put your money into a savings account with a reputable financial institution, where you will start getting returns based on the interest that bank is offering, but here you would get very low returns. If anyone gives you very high rates for a fixed deposit, do not invest there,” she warned.
Saving in a Sacco, meanwhile, gives depositors dividends at the end of each accounting year depending on the Sacco’s performance and amount invested, while also helping the depositor to boost their portfolio for future loans.
Informal savings groups, popularly known as chamas, are also a key instrument in helping one foster a savings culture especially for low-income earners, which can be harnessed to start a business and also be used to access low-interest loans that can be used to pay for necessities when need arises. – nation.co.ke
The Central bank of Kenya, Nairobi.
Defaults on mortgages jumped 48 percent to Sh70.5 billion in the year to March, pointing to widespread distress in real estate in the wake of Covid-19 economic hardships as property auctions pick up.
Latest Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) data shows that mortgages recorded the highest growth in non-performing loans (NPLs) from Sh47.5 billion in March last year, reflecting the struggle by investors to find buyers for their houses amid dwindling returns.
Unpaid mortgages increased by Sh9.1 billion or 14.8 percent in the three months to March, a rise that outpaced other segments like manufacturing (three percent), agriculture (10.7 per cent) and personal loans (three percent) in growth of default on loans, the CBK said.
The mounting defaults in the property market are a reflection of the struggles that mortgage holders are undergoing in an economy that has witnessed a string of job losses across nearly all sectors since the onset of Covid-19 in Kenya in March last year as corporates intensify austerity measures to protect profits.
This has seen workers who took mortgages on the strength of their pay slips default. The slowdown in real estate is hurting property developers who are finding it difficult to sell units that were built on loans.
Banks that had gone slow on property seizures last year following the pandemic
have stepped up debt recovery efforts to clean up their loan books, leading to a spike in auctions.
Thousands of defaulters have since January been appearing in the books of Kenya’s three CRBs — Metropol, TransUnion and Creditinfo International—after the CBK lifted the suspension of listing for loans that were defaulted after April 1 last year.
The CBK has linked the sharp rise in mortgage defaults — credit that goes unpaid for 90 days — to skipped repayments on covid-19 disruptions.
“The real estate sector registered the highest increase in non-performing loans by 14.9 percent (Sh9.1 billion) as a result of disruptions by Covid-19 pandemic,” said the CBK in the banking sector review of first quarter of the year.
Real estate has been one of the country’s fastest growing sectors in the last 15 years, with returns from property outpacing equities and government securities.
The sector has, however, suffered slow growth in sales and rental prices recently due to a huge stock of unsold units, which has seen developers who tapped loans to build and sell houses default.
Low occupancy rates have meant that developers who were dependent on rent collections to repay loans are also struggling.
Industries and other businesses have since cut down their activities in response to the infectious disease, leading to job cuts and unpaid leave for retained staff as profitable firms move into losses.
Businesses that tapped loans based on their projected cash flows are also struggling to meet the loan obligations.
CBK data to April shows that net domestic credit to the real estate sector grew by 5.8 percent to Sh409 billion, the slowest in nine months.
Auctioneers reckon they are holding more forced sales in 2021 linked to mortgage defaults compared to previous years, with banks moving much faster to seize properties from defaulters since the cap was put in place.
But the auctioneers are not selling as fast as they are repossessing due to the minimum bid price, leaving a glut of repossessed vehicles, land, houses and office equipment as cash-strapped buyers seek to buy the properties cheaply and at outsized discounts.
The Land Act, 2012 bars banks from auctioning seized assets at below 75 percent of the prevailing market value.
This has led banks to eye private settlements.
Under private treaties, distressed borrowers agree with banks to look for the best available price for their properties and sell to repay loans as opposed to relying on the auctioneer’s hammer. – businessdailyafrica.com
Our client who is in hotel industry in the Republic of Ireland is looking for people to work in his hotels in Ireland.
He is looking for waiters, waitresses, Supervisors, managers etc, etc. Would you be interested? Alternatively, do you know of anybody who is interested? A little experience in working in Hotel industry is desirable. More training will be offered in Ireland.
For more information, please contact:-
Lawrence Carlos: 07816 229423
Michael Njuguna: 07440 11 22 53.
The move follows concerns about shortages of food supplies in shops
Key parts of the food industry will be allowed to do daily Covid testing from Friday instead of asking staff to self-isolate.
The government said daily testing would be implemented at key sites, such as supermarket depots and food manufacturers.
Close to 10,000 staff at 500 sites in the UK will eventually be affected.
It comes as supermarket bosses warn of severe staff shortages after thousands received alerts to self-isolate.
Supermarkets said the supply of some products was being affected by the “pingdemic” keeping staff away from work, as a record 618,903 people were told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app in England and Wales.
While some retailers said they may have to close stores, they downplayed fears of food shortages, saying the problems were not widespread.
The new daily contact testing measures will begin at 15 supermarket depots from Friday, followed by 150 depots next week, but it will not apply to supermarket store staff.
It will mean depot workers who are alerted by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative, whether or not they are vaccinated.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said “disruption is limited at the moment” but it was vital that the government rolls out the scheme as fast as possible and is prepared to take further action if necessary.
In a separate development, other key industries will also be allowed to deploy daily Covid testing instead of self-isolation for a limited number of essential workers who are fully vaccinated.
This scheme covers sectors including transport, emergency services, border control, energy, digital infrastructure, waste, the water industry, essential defence outputs and local government.
Analysis box by Faisal Islam, economics editor
This intervention should alleviate genuine concerns in the food industry about supplies. Hundreds of designated sites – supermarket depots and food manufacturers – will be able to administer the tests that will enable workers to skip the need for self isolation.
This will be the case whatever the vaccination status of the worker. It is not sector-wide and will not, for example, apply to actual supermarket stores.
But it should be enough to stop some of the sporadic shortages become a systemic issue. Shoppers should feel reassured.
More generally the help in other sectors is limited.
The government clarified that the scheme announced earlier this week to allow named double-vaccinated workers approved by letter to avoid isolation will apply to 16 sectors from energy to waste to medicine and essential transport.
The bar is high. The government is trying to keep the Test and Trace system intact as a second line of defence against the pandemic. It is as tricky a balancing act as it has always been.
Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that while the announcement would be a relief to some businesses, “it will leave many more still facing critical staff shortages and lost revenue as the number of people being asked to isolate remains high”.
CBI director general Tony Danker agreed, warning: “The current approach to self-isolation is closing down the economy, rather than opening it up.”
Businesses have already exhausted contingency plans to get in extra staff and are “at risk of grinding to a halt in the next few weeks”, he added.
Scotland has also launched a system of exemptions from self-isolation, covering workers in sectors such as health and social care.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We recognise there are some absences in the food supply chain so what we’re announcing is for the top four hundred or so sites, things like supermarket depots, and some of the key food manufacturers.
“We’re going to change the system, and enable them to test and return to work, so somebody who is contacted in future by test and trace or is pinged will be able to have daily contact testing for seven days and be able to carry on working, provided their tests remain negative.”
Mr Eustice added: “We’re still concerned about the level of hospitalisations, so we want to do what’s necessary to get the food supply chain working, but at this stage not go as far as including those stores.”
A Kenya woman Christine Aluoch Babu of Tampa, Florida has Passed away mid-air just an hour before landing in Doha, Qatar. She was traveling from US to Kenya. While on a trip to Kenya. Her body is in Qatar and the family are appealing for Help to Repatriate her to Kenya. Here below is the obituary message:
IT is with deep sorrow that we inform you of the death of Christine Aluoch Babu (Sten), who was based in the USA and was traveling from Tampa, Florida to Nairobi, Kenya for vacation on 14/07/2021. She was accompanied by her 15-year-old daughter and a family friend.
Christine passed out mid-air an hour before landing in Doha, Qatar. Upon landing, she was rushed to Hamad Emergency Hospital for treatment. Unfortunately she did not make it and died after suffering a massive cerebrovascular accident (stroke) as a result of multiple blood clots in her left atrium.
Her body is currently still at the mortuary in Doha, Qatar as we wait for the authorities to conclude their investigations per protocol.
The family is kindly requesting well-wishers support through prayers and finances to help them raise funds to cater for the hospital, mortuary expenses, as well as repatriation of her body to accord her last respects and burial in Gem Ahono village, Siaya County.
Contributions can be made through the following platforms:
M-Changa: Paybill 891300, Account 48531
Alternatively you can send direct MPesa to 0721986088 (Richard Okoth)
NYS Supervisor Peris Nduati (right) with Kenya Power meter reader Anthony Kagwi on July 16, 2021.
The Labour Court has restrained Kenya Power from replacing over 300 workers meter NYS personnel until a case filed by Ketawu is determined.
The Employment and Labour Relations Court has restrained Kenya Power from implementing a meter reading deal with the National Youth Service (NYS) after more than 300 of the utility firm’s workers, mostly meter readers, rushed to court to stop the agreement.
The 320 employees through their union, the Kenya Electrical Trades and Allied Workers Union (Ketawu), moved to court seeking orders to restrain the electricity distributor from firing them. They also sought to have Kenya Power restrained from outsourcing information and data gathering, arguing that it was breach of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
This was after Kenya Power last year entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with NYS, agreeing to take up 300 officers and 10 supervisors from the youth service to do meter reading.
In the MoU, Kenya Power would cater for costs and pay the outsourced meter readers Sh1,000 daily while the supervisors would be paid Sh2,000 daily. On its part, NYS would provide labour, transport and work equipment.
But the Labour court has now stopped Kenya Power from implementing the MoU until the matter raised by Ketawu is resolved.
Status quo remains
“In the meantime, the status quo pending as of today July 19, 2021 is to be maintained pending the inter partes hearing of the application,” ordered Justice Maureen Onyango, while setting the matter for hearing on July 28.
The workers complained to the court that Kenya Power made the move without consulting them, despite a CBA already in force which protects their interests.
“The recognition agreement between the union and Kenya Power is categorical in protecting the potential impact on employees and envisages prior consultation on such radical measures in the working environment,” said the union’s general secretary Ernest Nadome in an affidavit.
Issues the workers have raised include unlawful, unfair, illegal and wrongful labour practices and outsourcing of the provision of meter reading services by Kenya Power, violation and breach of the recognition agreement and the CBA. – nation.co.ke