Finland scholarships scandal: Man reveals Sh700,000 pay during overseas trip with Mandago

Jackson Mandago

Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago when he appeared before the Nakuru Law Courts on August 17, 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

A county government official has shocked a Nakuru Court admitting to receiving huge sums of money for accompanying former Uasin Gishu Governor, Jackson Mandago, abroad in 2021.

Mr Joel Cheruiyot Chelule, the chairperson of the Uasin Gishu County Revolving Fund, told the court, that he was paid Sh700,000 as per diem to accompany the then county boss to Finland and Canada, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with three universities, for an overseas education program for students in the county.

The official, who was testifying in a case where Mr Mandago, who is the current Senator of Uasin Gishu, and two officials, Joshua Lelei and Meshack Rono, have been charged in connection with a Sh1 billion overseas education scholarship scandal, however, told the court he did not know his role in the trip and neither did he understand the reason for his inclusion.

The trip lasted for nine days between August 12 and  21, 2021. 

Among those on the trip were the governor, his personal assistant, and county officials including Joel Ruto and Joseph Maritim.

“The tickets to Finland and Canada were paid by the county government of Uasin Gishu and I received around Sh 700,000 per diem from the county. I did not know the purpose of my inclusion in the delegation and I just thought the governor wanted me to be part of the team that will witness the signing of the MoU,” said Mr Cheruiyot.

Mr Cheruiyot’s claims saw the defence team lawyers question his role in the trip. 

The witness further denied travelling in the capacity of the chairperson of the Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust Fund.

Mr Cheruiyot denied being aware of the existence of the trust, saying he only came to learn of its existence in September 2022.

This was when he was required by the county executive member for education to respond to a petition that had been submitted by parents demanding to know the fate of their children, after paying money for the overseas programme.

Mr Cheruiyot said he was called by the CEC, who informed him that the members of the Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust Fund, which he was part of, were the only ones in a position to respond to the petition.

CEC education

“The CEC education told me that it is only the six of us who can respond to the petition by parents and suggested that we meet and do the response,” he said in court.

The court heard that he met with the CEC together with four other people at the Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret on October 3, 2022, where he was also paid Sh36,000.

The team included Joel Ruto, Meshack Rono, David Kesio, and Loice Chelimo. One of the trustees Ms Susan Keino sent apologies.

From the meeting, they discovered that a trust had been formed and they were included as trustees, and a bank account for the trust had been opened at the KCB Bank Eldoret branch.

They then requested to be supplied with information on the process of formation of the trust as well as registration documents, but they were denied.

“Three of us, Loice Chelimo, David Kesio and I decided to visit the bank to get information about the account. We were received by corporate manager Mr Cheshire, who agreed he knew about the trust. He said we were listed as trustees in documents submitted to the bank,” said Mr Cheruiyot.

Their efforts to get more details on the fund were unsuccessful as they learnt that only the principal trustee, Joseph Maritim, could get access to the documents.

ID card details

Some of the documents submitted to the bank included a trust deed, minutes of a meeting they purportedly held on April 23, 2022, their KRA pins, and ID card details.

Following the new revelations, the three decided to quit the purported trust.

“We concluded that our inclusion into the membership of the trust was unprocedural and unlawful, improper and incomplete,” said Mr Cheruiyot.

They then wrote a letter to Mr Maritim seeking to be removed from the list of trustees, a letter which was never responded to.

In February 2023, the said trustees were summoned by the county assembly committee, which was investigating the matter, requiring them to shed light on the issues raised.

He first saw the trust registration documents in April last year after they were summoned by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, to record statements on the matter.

Mr Cheruiyot noted that they discovered the deed had their signatures including his, which he said were not genuine.

Education programme saga

In the case, Senator Mandago and his co-accused persons have denied 10 charges of conspiracy to steal, stealing, abuse of office, and forgery in the Finland education programme saga.

The charge sheet indicates that the three conspired to steal the Sh1.1 billion from KCB Bank in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu, on dates between March 1, 2021, and September 12, 2022.

The money in the account was registered under the county’s education overseas university fees for students under the education programme.

Mandago is said to have abused his office between March 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, when he allegedly entered into a memorandum of understanding with universities in Finland and Canada on behalf of his government, without approval from the county assembly.

The three-day hearing began on Monday and will end on Thursday. The prosecution has lined up 202 witnesses to testify in the case.