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Graduates blame employers, harsh times for bad debt history

COUNTIES
By By AUGUSTINE ODUOR | June 6th 2013

By AUGUSTINE ODUOR

Kenya: Harsh economic times, low pay and failure by employers to remit deductions are some of reasons many university graduates have accumulated huge arrears for Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) loans.

Interviews with some defaulters yesterday revealed that with low pay, family matters and efforts to eke a living, it has been difficult to repay loans.

Antony Kamau, who graduated from Egerton University in 2010, said even after he got employment with a local NGO, he was unable to start servicing his loan.

The First Class degree graduate of sociology said with only Sh20,000 salary, he could not make any adjustments to fit Helb demands.

“Every month I look at my payslip and wonder how I could talk to Helb to exempt me from payment,” Kamau laments.

He said this was aggravated by her mother’s ailment that has left his pockets empty. Kamau said his mother has been admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital for the better part of his employment duration.

“I have not even thought of getting married because I wonder where she will fit with the responsibilities I have,” he said.

But yesterday, even as he queued for over four hours to seek clearance from the agency, he was all smiles.

Of the Sh323,000 penalty fees he was to pay, the amnesty waiver extended by Helb has tremendously cut down the debt.

“They have waived Sh100,000. This means I will only pay Sh232,000,” he told The Standard.

He added given his circumstances, his employer has also agreed to deduct “responsibly” as not to hurt his pockets.

Helb CEO Charles Ringera said all employers are advised to visit the agency to discuss repayment plans.

“We are always willing to listen to every case so that we discuss repayment strategy for every individual,” he said. Another defaulter, Mr George Karanja accused his employer of failing to reconcile his monthly deductions with Helb.

He said the employer had been deducting from his pay Helb fees since 2008 when he only had a balance of Sh4,000.

Ledger fees

“But when I came here, I was told that I should pay Sh280,000 as penalty fees,” he said. Karanja noted that after the waiver, he has been asked to pay only Sh10,000 for ledger fees and interest.

Loans Recovery and Repayment manager Geoffrey Monari, however, said it is the responsibility of every graduate to keep track of their payments.

He said it is wrong to leave every transaction to the employer.

“The transaction is only complete when you have the certificate of clearance duly signed by the CEO and the head of operations.”

Another defaulter Millicent Muthoni blamed her employer for failing to remit her deductions.

The 1992 graduate said she did not have a job until 2003. Muthoni said the oversight by her employer has now seen her pay Sh47,000 after a waiver of Sh248,000.

“I wonder how I would have paid all that money if we were not given a waiver,” Muthoni said.

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