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Where’s our cash for Covid desks, carpenters ask

NEWS
By Standard Team | November 30th 2020
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha inspects desks at Ayany Primary School in Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Artisans have expressed frustrations over delayed payment after delivery of desks and chairs for public primary and secondary schools under the Sh1.9 billion project.

This is despite a promise by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang that the carpenters would be paid by November 6.

“For those who have completed and delivered we will start paying them from Friday. Everything is ready,” Prof Magoha said in Kisii, on October 30.

Speaking at Olekasasi Primary in Rongai on the same day, Dr Kipsang said the artisans would be paid immediately upon delivery of the desks.

“We borrowed the money to supply the desks and those we owe know that we delivered and were paid. It is so embarrassing to keep telling them lies,” said an artisan in Vihiga County. The carpenter who falls in the category of persons living with disabilities said he borrowed about Sh300,000 to make the desks.

“I spent Sh5,000 to deliver the desks to schools and to date I am yet to pay the transporter. And I did this to beat the deadline for delivery,” he said.

The artisans’ deadline for the supply of the 622,157 desks, chairs and lockers to public primary and secondary schools was on October 27. Of the Sh1.9 billion, Sh1 billion was to go towards making desks for secondary schools while Sh900 million for primary schools.

The government plan was a major boost for jua kali artisans and small and medium-sized enterprises involved in carpentry at the sub-county level.

It is now emerging that the wait may be longer as ministry officials navigate the stringent procurement processes before payment approvals are done.

The Standard yesterday established that a report by the sub-county procurement inspection and acceptance committee must be submitted to the county head office for approval.

“This report is critical because it details whether the desks, chairs and lockers were of the specified quality and if they met set standards,” said a sub-county director in Kakamega County.

According to the plan, two planning and execution committees were formed and chaired by county commissioners at the county level and Deputy County Commissioners at the sub county level.

Deputy county commissioners were to lead their teams in confirming the quality of the furniture and compliance with the specifications with the prototypes and ensure proper labelling before delivery to schools.

The county and sub-county committees were to ensure that the benefiting schools are well distributed geographically.

Procure material

Magoha said only verified work will be paid. “…and of course we shall pay for what we have verified which is very top quality,” he said.

The CS assured that payments will be made to individual artisans through mobile money transfer.

Interviews with artisans across the country revealed that most of them borrowed money­ – with an accruing interest– as they did not have the financial capability to deliver the project.

“The interest is growing each day and some of us have even gone to the County Commissioner’s office to ask for payment but we are told that the money is available but some process is delaying the release of the cash,” said another artisan in Nairobi.

Others also said that the cost of assembling the desks and chairs was higher than what the ministry prescribed.

The Ministry said that each primary school desk would cost Sh2,500 since lockers and chairs cost Sh3,800 under the Economic Stimulus Programme for public primary and secondary schools countrywide.

The artisans, however, argue that the cost of assembling a desk and locker was Sh5,151.

But Magoha said that after conducting due diligence, the ministry set the prices at Sh2,500 and Sh3,800 for primary and secondary school desks respectively.

He said a unit at the ministry had inflated the cost by Sh1,700, which meant that only 250,000 desks would be supplied.

“The government will now be able to supply 622,157 locally assembled desks to 5,136 public primary (359,450 desks) and 5,243 public secondary schools (262,707 desks, lockers and chairs),” said Magoha.

Nakuru County Education Director, George Kimani, noted that 4,000 desks have been supplied to primary schools, out of the expected 11,550, with 300 tables and chairs to secondary schools, out of 9,600.

“Supply of furniture to schools has been sluggish as contractors complain of delayed payments, making it hard for them to procure material for assembling them,” Mr Kimani.

High finish

According to the quotation drawn by the School Equipment Production Unit, lockers and chairs were to be of 16 gauge, one inch round metal tube frame and a lockable box of cypress wood.

For lockers, the top hung opening flap was to be made of three quarter inch thick plain manufactured block board with cypress wood beading and piano hinges. “High finish with clear varnish and metal frame painted with black gloss paint to prevent rusting,” reads the quotation.

For chairs, quotation required that they be mounted on 16 gauge, one inch round metal tube frame.

[Reports by Augustine Oduor, Mercy Kahenda and Nderitu Gichure]

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