Raila’s Azimio rejects President Ruto's plan to privatise universities

Opiyo Wandayi

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi.

Photo credit: Rushdie Oudia | Nation Media Group

Raila Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition has rejected the planned privatization of public universities by the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Privatisation is believed to be a scheme to bail institutions out of the current financial crisis.

Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said that the government had already identified investors from Indonesia and the US who were ready to make multi-million shilling investments in public universities that are currently saddled with huge debts.

“We are already in talks with some investors to partially buy some of the universities. Universities are riddled with mismanagement and debts. We will market Kenyan universities as centres of education excellence internationally so that the institutions don’t become a wasted investment,” Mr Kuria said.

He added: “The investors will run the universities profitably. They will also put to use the huge tracts of land universities have that are not in use by putting it under agriculture and affordable housing units for students and staff. Those in management have reached the end of their thinking capacity. We are bringing investors to turn the assets they have into money.”

In a statement to the newsroom Friday, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi claims that the privatisation of the universities is a scheme by some Kenya Kwanza politicians to amass wealth because they will emerge as the highest bidders.

“Our public universities sit on massive resources, particularly land and infrastructure. Someone may be eyeing these resources under the guise of fixing the financial problems facing the institutions. Our public universities could soon be on sale to the highest bidder. When that happens, it is logical to expect that the Kenya Kwanza politicians who are making the demand for privatization will themselves be bidding for the precious real estate assets our universities have,” said Mr Wandayi.

The Ugunja MP says that President William Ruto’s administration should come up with ‘creative and sustainable’ ways to fund public universities so as not to interfere with needy students who depend on subsidized education.

He says that the management of institutions of higher learning should not be constituted based on political affiliations or tribes.

“Currently, top echelons of our universities are packed with government appointees, many of them political rejects who have little commitment to the vision and goals of guaranteeing high-quality education to the masses. We must rid the management of public universities of political interference,” said Mr Wandayi.

The Minority Leader claims that some Kenya Kwanza leaders are currently running private universities and are out to create confusion in the university system for their institutions to thrive.

“We also believe that the government does not want to allocate adequate resources to public universities because some political leaders and senior government officials have private universities and educational institutions. This needs to be reviewed,” he said.

“Privatisation has the real danger of removing the academic checks and balances that protect standards in universities. It will turn these institutions into companies whose primary obligation is to their shareholders, making them focus on driving down costs and maximizing profits. We don’t want to go there,” Mr Wandayi added.

Already the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) have also opposed the plan by the government to privatize the public varsities, arguing that it would make education expensive.

Uasu National Secretary General Constantine Wasonga said if universities are privatised, the cost of education will rise because investors will charge fees "the way they want" thus denying many Kenyans access to higher education.

Kusu Secretary-General Charles Mukhwaya said they would not support the privatisation bid. 

“Kenya is struggling to be a developed country and requires serious, highly qualified human resources. The moment you shift education into private hands, it means only very rich people will afford to get that education,” said Dr Mukhwaya.

This comes even as President Ruto’s administration has already begun the process to sell financially struggling parastatals.

The Privatisation Commission this month announced that the government majority-owned Agro-Chemicals and Food Company (ACFC) is on sale. It said the government is seeking to sell its stake in the firm amid accumulating losses and growing debt.

The government owns a 56 per cent stake in the company while Indian conglomerate Mehta International Limited owns the remaining 44 per cent.

ACFC owes the government Sh9.63 billion, including Sh737 million in accrued interest and accumulated losses amounting to Sh8.36 billion.

The state is also seeking to sell its stake in Consolidated Bank of Kenya Limited and Development Bank of Kenya.

The Treasury last week said the government is exposed to a fiscal risk of Sh2.75 trillion should parastatals default on the debts they took from both commercial and multilateral lenders for which it gave guarantees.

Already National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Prof Njunguna Ndung’u has sponsored the Privatisation Bill which seeks to turn the Privatisation Commission into a parastatal –the Privatisation Authority – that will be domiciled at the Treasury and run by a managing director.

Privatisation of state-owned enterprises has emerged as a priority in President Ruto’s fiscal consolidation plan, with proceeds from the sales to be deposited into the Consolidated Fund for budgetary spending.