What you need to know:
- Mr Bii wants Mr Mandago to come out and explain the mess around the controversial study programme to angry parents and students
- They have held protests demanding a refund of their money
- The county government has been accused of failing to remit fees to universities abroad, with some students failing to travel for study and others being stranded abroad due to fee arrears.
Governor Jonathan Bii has confronted his predecessor Jackson Mandago — now the Uasin Gishu senator — over the controversial airlift programme for students to foreign countries.
Mr Bii on Tuesday challenged Mr Mandago to come out and explain the matter to angry parents and students who are now demanding a refund of money they paid through the county government as tuition fees for studies in Finnish and Canadian universities.
This is after some students who registered for the programme paid money to a collection account provided by the county government, but never left the country because they didn’t secure admissions. The payments were made between 2021 and 2022.
"We are unable to refund the money demanded by parents for the Canada and Finland study programmes because the trust account has only Sh1.8 million. A whopping Sh33 million cannot be accounted for," the Uasin Gishu governor said at a press conference on Tuesday following protests by angry parents yesterday.
The county government has been accused of failing to remit fees to universities abroad, with some students either not travelling to study or those who had, being stranded abroad due to fee arrears.
On Monday, angry parents held Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor John Barorot hostage at the sub-county governor's office in Kapseret after storming the county offices demanding a refund of their money following the botched study programmes.
Waving 'refund our money' placards and chanting 'no refund no devolution conference', the angry parents paralysed operations at the office.
On Tuesday, Governor Bii absolved himself from the mess, saying his predecessor should be held accountable.
“Mr Mandago who is a son of the soil should carry his cross and come out clearly on this airlift programme. Everyone knows that he and his administration were the architects of the programme and here I am being crucified for his sins, which is not fair,” a frustrated Governor Bii said.
“He should be held to account. I have been rendered restless by parents who are on my neck because I have nothing to tell them,” he said.
The demonstrating parents on Monday issued a five-day ultimatum to the county government to refund their money, failing which they threatened to disrupt the upcoming devolution conference scheduled for August 15-19.
A standoff had ensued after the protesters locked the main gate of the sub-county governor's office after a contingent of anti-riot police and county askaris arrived to evict them.
They watched from outside the gate as the parents demonstrated inside the governor's office, demanding an audience with Mr Barorot, who was holed up inside with other county officials.
As the chaos continued and the protesters held their ground, the deputy governor was seen sneaking through the back door with the help of his handlers who cut an opening in the chain-link fence. He was then driven away in a county vehicle, leaving his official vehicle outside the offices.
Cat and mouse games
The parents, who got wind of the deputy governor sneaking out of the premises, accused the county government of playing games with them after collecting millions from them.
"Whenever we try to seek an audience with Governor Jonathan Bii, he is always sneaked out through the back door of his office in Eldoret.
We are now wondering why the two officials always run away from us instead of sitting down and explaining what went wrong," lamented Ms Ester Kemboi, who paid Sh900,000 for her child.
"Governor Bii should have told us that there is no money instead of taking us round in circles. If the money was siphoned off by the previous administration led by Jackson Mandago, the then governor and architect of the airlift programme, he should be bold enough to tell us the way forward instead of trying to frustrate us more. All we need is a refund of our money," she said
Eldoret Municipal Chairman Julius Kitur was booed and chased away by parents when he tried to calm them down.
"The devolution conference has nothing to do with the Finland-Canada saga. Let's separate the two," he said to the jeers of the dejected parents.
"Cant take it anymore"
On Tuesday, Mr Bii, weighed down by the pressure from parents convened a press conference at the county headquarters where he issued a hard hitting statement and taking on Senator Mandago over his role in the mess.
The governor said the matter should not be taken lightly because parents sold their property to pay for their children’s trips and stay abroad and were suffering.
“When I assumed office on August 25, 2022, I took an oath to protect the best interests of the people of Uasin Gishu. I received a petition from parents to look into the overseas education scandal which I am inadvertently being blamed for,” said Mr Bii.
“The concerns raised by the parents are weighty but my administration is only lessening their burden through finding a solution and offering them psychosocial support. It is unfortunate because a life has been lost,” he said.
The governor noted his hands are tied since a preliminary report by a task force he commissioned to look into the matter had established that the study programme was managed by an independent trust known as Uasin Gishu Overseas Trust and not the county government, with independent signatories.
The account which received payments from parents to cater for fees, accommodation, flight, and other incidentals for students registered to enroll at Finish and Canadian institutions was held at Kenya Commercial Bank.
“The money deposited into that account was managed by signatories who were members of the Trust. The findings also indicated that the county government was not and is still not in control of the account,” he said.
Account remained active amid scandal
He revealed the trust was still collecting funds into the account even in February this year when the scandal had been unearthed and he advised parents to stop any kind of deposit to the account.
“I have since suspended any new applications being received by the Department of Education for overseas programs and continue facilitating students who have already paid fees and other incidentals to travel to Finland to continue and complete the process,” he said.
According to the county boss, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and all other relevant agencies were carrying out further investigations on the several county officials over forgery, abuse of office, and integrity.
Regarding the refund demand by parents, Mr Bii said it was impossible at the moment since there were few funds in the account.
“Through the task force, we have been able to ascertain that the account is in shortage of Sh138.3 million to enable the realization of the program for the pending students currently in the situation. The shortage was occasioned by Sh87.6 million owed by some parents to the Trust,” he said.
“Sh17.8 million constitute an overpayment to various institutions in both Canada and Finland. This scenario arose when the students who had enrolled were denied visas, failed the foundation studies and others chose to withdraw from the program due to personal reasons yet their fees had already been remitted to the institutions,” he said.
Regarding the balance of Sh32.7 million, Governor Bii disclosed that the task force was not able to ascertain the whereabouts and the investigating agencies should expedite their probe to allow the recovery of the funds.
“As of today, the account holds only Sh1.8 million which cannot sustain the operation of the program unless parents pay more,” he said.
His deputy Eng Barorot said he holds weekly meetings with parents and students of Jyvaskylla, LUT, Gradia Consortium College, and Laurea which hosts Porvo, Lohja, Tikurrila, and Otaniemi campuses to facilitate joint engagement with senior leadership of the institutions and negotiations for extension of fee payment deadlines.