Govenor Jonathan Bii suspends county staff entangled in Finland scholarship scandal

Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Bii. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Bii has suspended senior county staff alleged to have benefited from funds meant to support students studying in Finland.

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

He said that his cabinet had resolved to engage the EACC, vowing that any county official found culpable of mismanaging the students' money would face the full wrath of the law.

The county has also decided to suspend new students' applications to Finland and Canada programmes until the stalemate affecting continuing students abroad is resolved.

The governor said that the Trust would continue to facilitate the ongoing students stranded abroad.

The county boss has asked parents to ensure that they pay their university fees to the Trust Account before the March 31 deadline given by various universities in Finland.

"We encourage parents with students in Finland to settle fees within the timelines negotiated by the task force that I formed last December," said Bii.

The governor's directive comes after an ad-hoc committee of the County Assembly tabled a report endorsed by the House a week ago.

The report revealed the process of admitting students from the county to study in Finland through the Finland Scholarship Programme was flawed, and money meant for the students' education misappropriated.

According to the committee, there was no transparency in the running of the programme.

Parents of the students were not given the Memoranda of Understanding and fees structures, despite several requests to have them availed.

The committee had recommended that the EACC, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and other relevant agencies move in and investigate senior county officials accused of forgery and abuse of office.

The report showed that the school fees that parents were to pay kept fluctuating and that on several occasions when the parents had meetings with the officials, the meetings ended in disarray because the officials were unable to give information parents required.

The committee led by Gilbert Chepkonga endorsed the recovery of the stolen money to support the students stranded in Finnish universities, especially those who had travelled earlier.

The report stated that the county government, under the leadership of former Governor Jackson Mandago, now senator, opened the Trust Fund account at KCB for purposes of receiving tuition fees for the students benefiting from the airlift programme.

However, implementation of the programme is said to have been a highly guarded secret that even then county head of Education was not privy to.

The County Assembly recommended that the county attorney step aside, pending investigations, for failing to advise the county government in his capacity as the principal legal advisor about the programme and its consequences.

The committee demanded a forensic financial audit of the Trust Account, and the county employees mentioned as beneficiaries of the transactions from the account suspended, pending investigations.

The county leadership has adopted the committee's demands.

"The County Executive to engage the services of an independent and reputable external forensic auditor to audit the account and report back to the county assembly within 30 days. The forensic auditor's term of reference shall be to analyse the financial data to look for evidence of the crime," read the recommendations by the committee.

The county has sent 202 students to study at various universities in Finland.

According to the county, 182 more students have begun the process and are expected to travel to the European country for their studies.

In a letter dated March 7, 2023, Tampere University's Vice President Ari Sivula told the students from Uasin Gishu County the cooperation agreement was terminated on March 1 due to unpaid tuition and accommodation fees.

The VC further stated that it is doing its best to find a solution and secure continuation of the students' studies by negotiating with another party to take over collecting and paying the fees to the university.

Finnish Ambassador to Kenya Pirkka Tapiola said there is no agreement between his government and the County government of Uasin Gishu and that the former would, therefore, not involve itself in issues raised.