Uasin Gishu leaders on the spot over botched Finland, Canada scholarships

Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago gives an update as to the status of the county scholarship program as Governor Jonathan Bii and other area leaders look on. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Emotions ran high as parents, whose children are studying in Finland and Canada under the Uasin Gishu County overseas study program, held a meeting with the county leadership.

The meeting, which is the first since the scandal emerged, saw the parents lecture Governor Jonathan Bii, his deputy John Barorot and Senator Jackson Mandago over alleged mismanagement of the program.

While the leaders pleaded with the parents to clear the arrears, the parents blamed the County leadership for what they termed as poor communication and lack of transparency in the program.

The parents said that on several occasions, they asked the county officials to present them with the fee structures and Memorandum of Understanding that the county government entered with the Finnish Universities, but their appeals were snubbed.

“Whenever we raised questions about the program, we were branded activists. We wonder how we could be activists when our monies were in question, and we were concerned about our children's welfare,” William Koech, one of the parents, said.

Koech said that after a year of zero communication, the parents joined forces and petitioned the County Assembly to intervene and conduct investigations into parents’ grievances.

On several occasions when the parents had meetings with the officials, they ended in disarray because the officials were unable to give the parents the required information.

The parents, most students at Tampere University, asked the University to allow them to pay their fees individually or through a different agent other than through the County Government.

“When our children were facing deportation if their fees were not paid by February 28, this year, we opted to involve Max Global, an agent of the University to help us talk to the University and allow us to open a different account for fee payments," the parent stated.

In March, Tampere University, which has more than 111 students from Uasin Gishu, decided to end its cooperation with the county.

The parents said the new agent had embraced transparency, making it easy for them to pay their fees on time while being in the know of all ongoing transactions.

Another parent, Sarah Koech, claimed that the parents did not have arrears as alleged.

“We paid all the monies the county needed until we disassociated with the trust account. I am wondering where the alleged arrears are coming from,” she said.

In response to the parents’ allegations, Mandago said that he regretted that there was a breakdown in communicating with parents when they raised their reservations.

Mandago said that the parents would be allowed to access the invoices and ascertain payments of school fees that they have been making to the Trust account.

“We will allow you (parents) to access invoices. Additionally, MoUs that we entered with various parties are government records and parents can look at them,” Mandago stated.

The former governor, who pioneered the program, dismissed parents’ allegations that the fees kept fluctuating, saying that parents had been informed from the start about the required fee amount.

“I do not remember saying that parents would only pay Sh918,000 for a whole academic year. If I did say so, that could have been an error, becoming the said amount covered only 60 per cent of the needed fee.”

Barorot stated that parents were not being overcharged in the program, adding that more money was required for visa application, accommodation fees, flight and even Covid-19 tests, among other requirements.

He added that the new administration resorted to forming a taskforce which he now leads to investigate the challenges facing the program.

Barorot added that parents have been included as signatories of bank accounts handling students’ funds and that more Euro accounts have also been opened.

“Before the formation of the taskforce, we realized that there was a lot of ambiguity in this program. We formed the taskforce which listened to all the stakeholders, and we have tried addressing challenges that the parents and students are facing with the first focus being addressing the said planned deportation of students,” Barorot stated.

Governor Bii stated that some County officials led by the Deputy Governor and MCAs would be sent on a fact-finding mission to the European countries.

“We want them to go and check on how the students we have sent abroad are faring. They will meet all the students, agents and the Universities and check those close to urban areas with opportunities for our students so that more students can be sent to such areas,” said Bii.

The meeting comes after Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) preliminary investigations revealed that more than

Sh257 million was reportedly debited from the Uasin Gishu Overseas Account to beneficiaries indicated as agents or intermediaries for onward transmission to Universities in Finland and Canada.

The statement was issued by the commission's Head of Corporate Affairs and Communication, Mr Eric Ngumbi.

Last week, the leaders in a joint presser, stated that Sh96.6 million was spent from the Uasin Gishu County Overseas Trust account to offset fee arrears for 322 students, whose classes had been cancelled in Finland and Canada.