What you need to know:
- Legislator, through a motion, plans to compel the government to pay school fees for children from poor families.
- She has proposed that all bursary kits be collapsed and the Education ministry take over the role of identifying poor children in secondary schools and clear their fees.
Ms Lillian Chebet Siyoi had not thought of joining elective politics until eight months to last year’s general election when she yielded to the pressure mounted by her friends to vie for a woman representative seat.
“In fact, I hated politics and I had not campaigned for any politician before. I was just a voter. But being an astute entrepreneur, I had built a strong network of customers and friends across Trans Nzoia County.
“My supporters pushed me hard to contest, but I was hesitant. One day I decided to share the same with my husband and asked him to allow me to venture into politics. After pondering over my request for about a month, he allowed me to contest,” she says.
She declared her candidature under the President William Ruto-led United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party and was handed a direct nomination, marking the beginning of her political tribulations in the lead-up to the election.
“UDA party had no gubernatorial candidate in the county. We were supporting Mr Chris Wamalwa of Ford Kenya, a constituent party of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance. But interestingly, Ford Kenya was supporting my opponent, Ms Susan Nakhumicha, the current Cabinet Secretary for Health.”
Being a competitor, Ford Kenya honchos pushed her to the periphery whenever she accompanied them to their campaign meetings. Ms Siyoi remembers that one day she attended a Ford-K meeting only for a group of hecklers to shout her down.
“I decided to campaign alone. Unlike my competitors who were doing joint campaigns with their gubernatorial candidates, I was funding my campaigns alone and this made me use a lot of money. I think I’m among the members of Parliament who spent a colossal amount of money on campaigns,” she says.
Pocket-draining campaigns were not the only challenge. Cyberbullies camped on her social media pages throwing all manners of unprintable insults.
“I decided to ignore all those insults. But some individuals who saw them on my social media told my parents. One day my father called me and looked disturbed. I could see sadness in his eyes,” she says.
“This almost made me pull out of the race for the sake of my father’s health.”
The avalanche of insults made her develop a thick skin. She decided to focus on her campaigns, and the effort paid off as she won the seat by landslide, becoming the second Trans Nzoia woman representative.
“Despite all those challenges, I had one advantage: I’m a Kalenjin but married to a Luhya man. This made me appeal to both sides. Because Trans Nzoia is a cosmopolitan county, I also ensured all communities were represented in my campaign team,” she says.
Ms Siyoi, who is a member of Labour and Social Welfare and Implementation Committees in the National Assembly, has prepared a motion seeking to compel the Ministry of Education to pay school fees for all children from poor families throughout their secondary education.
“Learners from poor families are forced to drop out of school because of lack of school fees. The bursaries given currently by governors, NG-CDF in constituencies and members of county assembly are not enough.
“Politicians are looking for votes; therefore, they are giving bursaries of less than Sh5,000 to a large number of learners to increase their popularity. This amount is not enough to clear school fees for children from poor families,” she says.
Ms Siyoi proposes that all bursary kits be collapsed and the Ministry of Education take over the role of identifying poor children in secondary schools and clear their fees, including money for lunch for those students in day secondary schools.
“I know this motion might not see the light of day in Parliament because politicians use the bursaries to entice voters. But I urge my colleagues to embrace it when I bring it on the floor so that poor children can learn without interruptions due to lack of school fees,” says Ms Siyoi, an alumna of Butere Girls’ High School and the Kenya Institute of Social and Community Development.
The lawmaker says she has borrowed that funding model from South Africa, where the government pays school fees for all children from poor backgrounds. She is also drafting a Bill that seeks to restrain the Kenya Revenue Authority from imposing hefty fines on small companies that fail to file returns.
“Some Kenyans register companies but when filing their returns some unscrupulous individuals file for them ‘nil returns’. After some years, when they are seeking clearance certificates, KRA imposes hefty penalties on top of the principal. This has pushed many people out of businesses. My Bill seeks to ensure these penalties become bearable,” she says.
Before venturing into business in 2010, Ms Siyoi worked with Chanuka Youth Group as psychosocial counsellor and campaigner on HIV/Aids and later an outreach officer with Handicap International.
She also founded Lillian Siyoi Foundation and Kapcheboek Community-Based Organisation, a credit and savings facility within Trans Nzoia County.
Ms Siyoi is the director of Libe Enterprises Limited, a company dealing with construction works, real estate, transport and logistics services.
But has she learnt in Parliament?
“Before I joined politics, I thought members of Parliament were enemies as they have made their supporters believe.
"When I got into Parliament for the first time, I was shocked to see Deputy Speaker Gladys Boss and Suna MP Junet Mohamed greeting each other heartily, yet they seemed to be political enemies.
“This changed my perception that politicians are friends and not enemies as they portray themselves out there,” she says.