We’re more than a week into 2023 and as human tradition dictates, let’s make New Year resolutions. A new year represents a fresh start and a new opportunity to do things differently from how you did them the previous year. And one of the things I submit to you that you should do differently is to make legal resolutions.
What are legal resolutions?
This is how I view it. First and foremost we live in a world where you can’t escape the law or the legal side of things. You sign contracts and come to an agreement with different people who affect your everyday life. For example you have a contract with your landlord as a tenant. You also have a contract with your employer. These contracts dictate the terms and conditions of your interaction.
In line with that, one of the most important resolutions you can make is to equip yourself with information on your rights. Let’s begin with the basics. As an ordinary Kenyan, how much of the constitution do you know? Do you know your rights in details such that if anything was to happen to you for example if you were arrested today, would you know what to do?
Here in Kenya there have been tons of land tussles that have rocked families negatively. Some have gone to the extremes of killing each other for pieces of land. In some cases when a man who owns land dies, his siblings harass his nuclear family and go to the extent of dispossessing that bereaved family of their rightful inheritance.
However, there are laws that govern such situations. That’s why this year we will acquaint ourselves with knowledge so that we won’t be stuck. It may not be for you all the time but you can help out a friend, colleague or a family member who might be experiencing legal challenges.
Form a habit of reading contracts, terms and conditions
This year we will do better as far as contracts are concerned. It’s not just appending a signature without knowing what we’re getting ourselves into. Alex Waweru an advocate and my editor at Corporate Juror says that a contract willingly entered into, is binding.
For instance when you get employed you definitely sign a contract. If you violate the specific terms of that contract you’ll be liable for legal action or the stated consequences. Therefore you need to ensure that you take your time and read every tenet of that contract back to back.
I once had a conversation with a musician friend of mine who was telling me about the various contracts that artists sign with music label companies. A classic rip off for musicians who don’t put in the effort to understand the agreements they’re getting themselves into.
There are musicians such as Taylor Swift who have long fought for rights to own their music. In the music industry, when an artist produces music the raw form of the music is called a master. This is before it’s uploaded to any digital platform such as Spotify or on CDs. The one who owns those masters gets to own the entire music. Therefore they will be earning the royalties that those songs earn.
For starting artists who don’t have money or are not yet known, the music labels give these vulnerable artists huge sums of money called advance payment. In return the artist surrenders ownership of their music by giving up their master rights. Whoever owns those masters can do whatever they please with the songs.
The artist may have written and sang the song, but unfortunately they don’t own it. Even if the song becomes an international hit.
That’s why this year we’re going to do better to read contracts. I saw one columnist asking questions when Transport Cabinet Secretary Hon. Kipchumba Murkomenn released a part of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) contract between China and Kenya. The contract was heavily skewed in favour of the Chinese at the expense of the Kenyan taxpayer.
The columnist asked whether the Kenyan negotiators and representatives had read the terms of the contract before upending their signatures on those contracts. Now the Kenyan economy is bogged down by debilitating debt and one of the biggest debts is owed to the Chinese.
When you start an account online with a social platform or an online service provider, there are terms and conditions that govern these online spaces. And one of the things that we will be keen about is our privacy. Though those conditions may be long and boring to read, we will ensure that we don’t give these people permission to surrender our contacts to third parties without approval.
And the best way to ensure that such a breach of privacy doesn’t happen is by studying the terms and conditions before clicking agree. That way if those terms are not agreeable to us, we’ll easily choose another provider who gives us more favourable and agreeable terms.
Last year was a very tough year economically for many companies. As a result there was a lot of downsizing. Many people were laid off. Some were sent away in a legal manner and others summarily. It wasn’t just a Kenyan problem. The world at large faced this problem partly thanks to Putin’s decision to start the Russia-Ukraine war without any provocation.
Huge tech companies such as Meta (which owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp), the Elon Musk-owned Twitter, Amazon and others let a lot of their employees go. The Twitter one was fast and messy and according to Forbes, they still haven’t paid the laid off workers their severance packages.
Learning from the experience of others is way better than going through the pain yourself. This year we’re making an intentional point to study the labour laws that govern this country. Know what you’re entitled to as an employee. What happens when you’re laid off or what happens when you need to leave your current company for greener pastures?
For the employers too you need to be extremely informed about how to handle your employees in a legally appropriate way. You don’t want suits rocking your company and having to spend lots of money on lawyers which you hadn’t planned.
Lastly ignorance is no defence
Many people often take reading for granted because it’s mentally tasking. It demands time and patience. But sometimes a few sentences and paragraphs could change your life for the best or the worst. Let’s do better this year. We’ll invest a few five minutes or hours to educate ourselves. Failure and senseless mistakes thrive in ignorance. And as the saying goes, ignorance is no defence.