Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago has admitted that the Finland airlift programme was not a scholarship, but the county termed it so to make the process easy.
However, this further muddied the water in a scheme that saw parents lose millions of shillings.
Mandago told a highly-charged meeting in Eldoret town that an agreement was reached to register the overseas study programme as a scholarship -- because it was easier to have it labelled as such -- although parents were required to pay fees.
The former governor who pioneered the programme that has been marred with controversy said registering the programme as a scholarship was meant to make things easy for the students.
“Registering it as a scholarship would enable students evade hurdles including requirements of producing bank statements and we would also get the advantage of guaranteed visas. We are revealing this information today because a lot of information is now in the public domain,” he said.
This emerged as parents whose children have failed to travel to universities overseas, despite paying millions of shillings, pressed the leaders to refund the money.
As the senator who was accompanied by Governor Jonathan Bii and his deputy John Barorot made the revelations, emotions ran high as parents who have been agitating for refund of the millions of shillings they spent in the botched programme narrated how their lives had changed after losing their hard-earned money while their children were still stranded at home.
Some of the elderly parents who addressed the leaders by their middle names – Kiplagat for Mandago and Kimeli for governor Bii, asked the leaders to be sincere and stop taking them in circles.
They said they were desperate after disposing of their properties to invest in the education of their children.
“We sold all our assets. Some parents have become tenants because they sold the last piece of their land for this programme and have now gone back to renting. Our children are depressed as parents battle illnesses they did not have before. What we demand to know is - how long will our children wait here while our lives remain stagnant?” posed a parent.
Mandago admitted that things changed when one parent went to visit her children in Finland and came back home with allegations that the Finnish government offers free education.
“The Embassy got wind of the allegations and began questioning the programme. They then changed requirements and began asking for bank statements. Visas, which were being processed within two weeks, started delaying,” he claimed.
He said parents were also required to pay accommodation for six months, unlike before when they would only pay for three months.
The deputy governor revealed that the complaints from parents began as soon as the Bii took office, necessitating the administration to form a task force to look into the matter and to understand how it was run.
Barorot said the task force, which he leads found that the programme was purely privately sponsored.
“We revealed to the Finnish universities that the programme was not a scholarship as they were made to believe but that it was an individual, privately sponsored programme. The universities told us that they already learned that after doing their investigations,” he said.
Mandago revealed that with the alleged rumours of free education in Finland, parents started delaying payment of second semester fees, which led to the schools suspending classes and threatening to deport the students.
That is when the county officials decided to use fees paid by the parents, to offset arrears of the stranded students overseas in order to save the programme which the universities were threatening to terminate.
“If it was terminated, it meant that it would affect even those who were in the process, including your children. The officials were looking at the sustainability of the programme,” said Mandago.
The senator argued that despite reaching an agreement with parents to clear the arrears in time, they failed to do so and instead started demonstrating seeking refund of their monies.
Two weeks ago, the leaders in a joint presser said that Sh96.6 million was withdrawn from the Uasin Gishu County Overseas Trust account to offset fee arrears for 322 students whose classes had been cancelled in Finland and Canada.
They said that the committee managing the overseas account reached the decision to pay the amount to Finnish and Canadian universities in order to save the program and avoid the deportation of the students.
“Parents who benefited from that move committed to repaying back, however, they haven’t done so, forcing many of the students who had cleared their fees and were waiting to travel for their overseas studies to delay for lack of money in the overseas account,” Mandago said.
The senator asked the parents to return the money to the Trust account to allow refund to parents who have been protesting after they cleared fees but their children are stranded at home.
In March, Tampere University, which has more than 111 students from Uasin Gishu decided to end its cooperation with the county and disassociate with the trust.
Yesterday, parents and students took turns to air their grievances as they pointed fingers at the leaders.
Efforts by the leaders to calm down the parents were futile as they heckled while elders reprimanded the leaders over their conduct, while warning them of dire consequences if they fail to heed their advice.
Young and the old took to the podium as they maintained that they were no longer interested in the programme and would only rest once they get refunds of their monies.
John Murei, asked the leaders to refund the money failure to which they would continue demonstrating and sabotage the devolution conference.
He confronted Mandago over utterances he allegedly made in Kalenjin that he would sell his land and pay the parents so that he would see how their children would benefit.
“Kiplagat (Mandago) and Kimeli (Bii), I know you well. I want you (Mandago) to first ask for forgiveness from these parents because of your sentiments made last week at Kerotet. Let us call it a slip of the tongue, maybe you were angry. But a leader of your stature should never utter such sentiments. We believed that you two had a future in your political journey but now we question that because how will you stand to convince the voters to vote you in again?” posed Murei.