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Finland airlift scam: Victims recall sweet lies that cost them millions

Rift Valley
 Mike Yegon ,one of the victims allegedly conned by 'First Choice Recruitment and Consultancy firm in Uasin Gishu narrates his ordeal to the Senate committee at the Parliament buildings ,Nairobi on March 14, 2023. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

When Kiptoo left the country to study nursing in Finland, through the Uasin Gishu Finland Scholarship program, he knew that his life and that of his family would change for the better.

The programme had been publicised by the county during the reign of Governor Jackson Mandago and parents from the county were encouraged to help their children seek greener pastures in the European country.

Kiptoo, who spoke in confidence, says at first his parents were reluctant to send him to a foreign country but after giving it much thought and the fact that their son was jobless even after graduating with a diploma in nursing, they honoured his wishes.

"After applying and learning that it was not a scholarship, our parents were called to a meeting where they were told of the many benefits that come with studying abroad. We were promised that we would get well-paying jobs that would enable us cater for our fees and even support our parents back home," says Kiptoo.

His parents sold part of their land in the hope that their son would soon start earning and that he would even buy them a bigger parcel of land.

They were asked to raise about Sh1.2 million for their first year school fees and visa application, accommodation fee, flight and even Covid-19 test among other requirements.

"When the fees could not be offset using the money we got from selling land, we did a harambee. There were more than 50 of us who were joining Laurea University of Applied Sciences," says Kiptoo.

The students further narrated that after arriving at the Finnish University in September last year, their expectations were, however, not met.

"It proved difficult to find jobs especially because the campus we are in is located in a remote area. There are very few job opportunities here and they are limited to those who can speak the Finnish language," students say.

Another student, who is also pursuing nursing at the same university said after their first semester, they were surprised when they were asked to pay about Sh500,000 for their second semester fees.

"We tried inquiring from county officials dealing with our program, but everyone went silent all of a sudden. We were left alone and our parents back home who had given all they had to see us come abroad were shocked. We kept wondering why the county had failed to remit the money yet we had paid the required school fees,'" said the students.

Due to the fee fiasco, students who joined various universities including Tampere University, Laurea University of Applied Sciences and Jyvaskyla University are staring at imminent deportation following non-payment of their fees.

Since the beginning of the program in 2021 a total of 202 students have travelled abroad to study in the various universities; Tampere (111 students), Jyvaskyla (25), and Laurea (66).

182 more students have begun the process and are expected to travel to the European country for their studies, 56 among them have done their first semester online.

According to parents led by Reuben Chepses, who petitioned the Uasin Gishu County Assembly over the program, the process for some of the students required 8650 Euros equivalent to Sh1.19 million school fees.

The parents were also required to pay Sh80,000 accommodation fee for three months, insurance (Sh30,000), visa (Sh49,000), for Covid-19 test (Sh5,000) and flight (Sh100,000).

Scholarship trap

"Parents were convinced that the required money would only be paid once. We were told that although the programme was supposed to be a scholarship, we only needed to pay the quoted amount and we would never pay fees again. We did not know that all these were lies," said a parent.

The students had also paid Sh6,500 each for the interview fee, but were not issued with any receipts of the said amount.

Parents whose children were among the pioneers of the programme argue that the first lot had been given a certificate of full scholarship, although their parents were catering for fees.

Chepses said that with the certificate of full scholarship, students have been greatly disadvantaged since they are treated as fully sponsored students and are given less hours to work to raise their school fees.

Recently, Tampere University ended its cooperation with the county due to the delays in the fee payment and the lapse of its February 28 deadline leaving over 111 students from Uasin Gishu County stranded.

In a letter dated March 7, the University's Vice President Ari Sivula told the students that the cooperation agreements between the University and the county were terminated on March 1 due to unpaid tuition and accommodation fees.

The Vice President further stated that it is doing its best to find a solution and secure continuation of the student's studies by negotiating with another party to take over collecting and paying the fees to the University.

A student from Tampere who spoke to us said that they felt a relief following the school's announcement given that they would no longer deal with the county.

"We have lost faith with the county since we have realised that our hard earned money might have been embezzled by the officials we trusted."

Laurea University, on the other hand, has suspended all classes for the Kenyan students stating that the school cannot continue the tailor-made degree program for Uasin Gishu groups, if the tuition fees are not paid.

The university has indicated that it will only continue with the second semester teaching if the fee is received adding that if the March 31 dateline is not honored, the study program will be terminated.

According to the university, the information of the terminated right to study will also automatically flow to the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, through electronic systems, which will be followed by cancelling of the residence permits and students repatriated back to Kenya.

Some students said that amid their woes, they had contacted the university, asking to be allowed to pay school fees directly to the institution but the school stated that it had initially made agreements with the county that the fee would be paid for the group at once.

"Under the act, commissioned education can only be sold to groups, and the client must be, for example, another state or an international organization. Therefore, an individual student cannot pay the tuition fees directly to Laurea,' read the reply by the University's director.

A parent questioned why the county had failed to disclose the fee structure to the parents despite several attempts by the parents to be furnished with the fee structures. He also stated that parents were not included as signatories of the trust account.

On Tuesday, of the 8,000 victims said to have lsot about Sh700 million narrated how they sold property for promises that never came to be.

Speaking to the Senate Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, a human rights activist said some of the victims and sympathisers were living in fear after they were threatened.

"I was offered Sh400,000 to stop pursuing this matter and when I declined I got threats against my life. I was forced to move out of Eldoret for my safety. I call upon the Senate to ensure that the at least 8,000 youths whose lives have been ruined get justice," said Kimutai Kirui.

The youth had been promised get jobs or studies in Qatar, Poland, Finland and Britain.

Sammy Boiro said he sold his motorbike to raise Sh40,400 to travel to Qatar for a job. He also convinced his parents to sell a portion of their land at Sh100,000 so that his sister could secure a chance to work there.

Police threats

Boiro said he further convinced at least 10 of his friends to pay the agency for jobs, and was now a wanted man back home since the victims think he conned them.

Lawrence Nzuki, who completed his studies at the Kisii University in 2019, told the committee that he paid Sh437,000 for a job and a chance for a masters degree in Finland.

He said when he pursued the matter, he was served a letter through the agency advocate accusing him of threats and defamation. He was even summoned to a police station and warned to keep off the matter.

Last week, Governor Jonathan Bii suspended three senior officials suspected to be beneficiaries of the millions.

Bii has also asked the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to carry out a forensic financial audit of the Uasin Gishu County Overseas Trust Account held at the KCB Bank within 30 days to determine if officials mismanaged the funds.

"The county officials suspected to have had a hand in the loss of student's money have already stepped aside for investigations. We want the EACC to carry out investigations swiftly and help us know the truth concerning this matter that has tarnished the name of this county,' said Bii.

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