Uasin Gishu county leaders broke their voters' trust in botched airlift

Uasin Gishu senator Jackson Mandago (Centre) escorted to Nakuru Central Police station on August 16,2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The scandal around the Uasin Gishu Education Trust Fund, an airlift education programme to Finland and Canada organised by the county government, raises many unanswered questions.

For example, why did the parents and students believe this was a scholarship programme yet they were paying millions of shillings? How was the programme to work and were there guarantees for admission and scholarships?

What were they paying for exactly? And how did the county government get involved? Since we cannot discuss the merits/demerits of a case pending in court, let us focus on the governance implications.

Elected leaders should be accountable to their electorates. They have a fiduciary duty and the obligation to protect the interests of their constituents. They also hold their elected positions in trust for their constituents.

Their conduct should not only be beyond reproach but must adhere to the Constitution. Article ten and chapter six provide for national values and principles and leadership integrity. These should be the basic tenets of political leadership and yardsticks for good governance by State Officers and political leaders.

However, it appears like many elected leaders have gotten away with impunity for so long instead of being the servants of the people. Article 10(2) outlines national values and principles of governance including social justice, protection of the marginalised, good governance, integrity, transparency, and accountability. According to Chapter Six, state officers are public trustees required to exercise the authority bestowed to them in line with the purposes and objects of this Constitution, demonstrating respect for the people, bringing honour to the nation and dignity to the office they hold, and promoting public confidence in the integrity of the office.

They have the responsibility to serve the people, rather than the power to rule them. In this regard, they are expected to exercise objectivity and impartiality in decision-making, and in ensuring decisions are not influenced by nepotism, favouritism, other improper motives, or corrupt practices.

They are also expected to provide selfless service based solely on the public interest, demonstrated by honesty in the execution of public duties, accountability to the public for decisions and actions; and discipline and commitment in service to the people. The Constitution is so serious in these matters that it provides that a person dismissed or otherwise removed from office for a contravention of these provisions is disqualified from holding any other state office for life. Imagine if we adhered to our Constitution. We would rid ourselves of corruption and abuse of office permanently. In this regard, we do have a beautiful Constitution. The novelty of devolution will wear off at the behest of the hubris of some governors who enjoy protection from “above.”

While the former governor and his co-accused have been arraigned in the criminal court, the victims will continue to languish over their misfortunes and if none of them goes to civil court to seek compensation and refund of their money, justice may not be served to them because, were the accused to be found culpable and be sentenced to jail or be fined, it is the State to profit from the fine and not the victims.

The biggest consequence of the scandal is the erosion of trust that the county government of Uasin Gishu is going to act in the best interests of parents and students.

The students and their parents expressed their frustration over lack of accountability and transparency in the manner in which the programme was managed and are now demanding refunds from the former governor and others before the court. It was disheartening to watch parents and students weep over the immense losses of their funds and delayed or deferred dreams of education abroad.

The most important lesson from this scandal was the boldness with which the students and parents exposed the alleged corrupt activities through their attempts to call out the dishonesty and accountability of elected leaders.

This also demonstrates that, although it is difficult to oversight a bloated cadre of public servants created by devolved governments when citizens properly wield their constitutional power over their elected leaders, they can end impunity.