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Outcry as orphans miss out on school bursaries

BUSINESS
By | May 20th 2009

By Sam Otieno

Politicians have handpicked their cronies to sit in the Constituency Bursary Committees and dish out Sh800 million secondary school bursary fund to undeserving students.

Consequently, needy students and orphans, who were the prime targets when the scheme was founded 15 years ago, have been unable to attend school, The Standard can reveal.

Education Assistant Minister Ayiecho Olweny has admitted that the Government was experiencing difficulties identifying genuine orphans, mainly because many had no identification documents such as birth certificates or their parents’ death certificates.

"It is a problem identifying the orphans," Prof Olweny said. "Some pose as orphans yet they are not."

The Standard investigation revealed that some MPs, who are mandated to oversee the Secondary School Education Bursary Fund — recommend their friends and relatives’ children for allocation of bursary.

According to the fund’s Act, MPs are supposed to sit on their constituencies’ bursary committees together with the local education officer, three religious organisations’ representatives and two chairpersons of parents/teachers associations of two secondary schools, among others.

In Bomet, constituents where Home Affairs Assistant Minister and MP Beatrice Kones has taken charge, for instance, the red flag has been over the distribution of bursary funds.

Bright students

In Koibeiyon Secondary School in the constituency, 12 bright orphans are reported to have missed out on the funding. Head teachers fail to raise the alarm over the anomaly for fear of victimisation. A principal in Bomet constituency asked: "How can you complain about someone who can influence your transfer, demotion or even sacking?"

But according to other head teachers, who sought anonymity, bursary committee members favour schools in areas they come from.

In Motigo Secondary School, also in the constituency, six orphans missed out on the funds. Other needy students from the same school, including seven whose at least one parent is dead, five children of single parents and five others whose parents have no source of income, also missed out.

But Ms Kones told The Standard that she was unaware some orphans had been left out of the constituency bursary allocation.

"I do not sit on the committee. But what I can say as the patron is that cheques were not released in good time, leading to delays in disbursement to schools," Mrs Kones said.

The Bomet MP wondered why two schools, Koibeyon and Motigo secondary, had been cited as the only cases in her constituency yet it has many schools.

Late submission

But Mr Samuel Lang’at, the chair of the Bomet bursary committee said students from Koibeyon Secondary had not been allocated the funds because their forms were submitted late. However, he said he was not aware that a child of a local chiefbenefited or that needy students from Motigo Secondary had been left out.

Koibeyon Secondary Principal Joseph Rono admitted that forms from his school were submitted late, but said the committee should have given them special consideration. But another school head told The Standard there was no clear communication about submission deadlines.

In Mombasa, a parent who tried to secure bursary for his child said he was turned away at three constituencies before he eventually get one. He claims that for one to get bursary, one has not only to be a friend of the MP, but also a supporter and voter. In Eldoret East, CDF treasurer Joseph Kimaiyo agreed that some MPs use the bursary fund to buy loyalty and give money to their friends and relatives. But he said his MP does not influence who benefits from the kitty.

A new report by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research proposes that since MPs are principal officers in the management of the bursary funds under their jurisdiction, they should be withdrawn from scheme for better management.

Speaking to The Standard on phone this week, Education Minister Sam Ongeri said bright orphans should be given first priority with regard to access to the funds.

—Additional reports by Vitalis Kimutai, Maureen Mudi, Kepher Otieno, Winsley Masese and Vincent Bartoo

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