Carry your cross: Bii tells Mandago to come clean on controversial student airlift programme

Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Bii, in Eldoret on Tuesday, when he addressed the press over the controversial students' airlift programme between the previous administration and two Western countries of Finland and Canada. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Uasin Gishu governor Jonathan Bii has distanced himself from the controversial student airlift programme between the county and two Western countries - Canada and Finland.

He said he did not initiate the programme as he laid blame on his predecessor and current area senator Jackson Mandago.

Under the arrangement, students from the county would be offered scholarships to study in universities in Canada and Finland in an alleged arrangement between the devolved unit and the two countries.

The students paid millions of shillings for the processing of their travel and other costs, including school fees.

Bii, who spoke on Wednesday just a day after parents and the affected students stormed the county offices in Kapseret demanding a refund of their money after the programme failed, challenged Mandago to come clean on the scandal in which millions of student’s money was allegedly misappropriated.

“The programme was initiated during Mandago’s tenure. He should take the blame. I will not shoulder the blame for a matter I know nothing about,” Bii said as he sought to clear his name.

He added: “Let it be known today that I did not pioneer this programme. I had nothing to do with it. I found it already rolling when I came it.”

Brian Kimutai, one of the students affected by the programme, breaks down during demonstrations at county offices in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, on Monday, July 10, 2023. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

"The previous administration needs to come out clean on this matter. Let them tell us what they know. I have no answers to give. Leave me alone and let the senator (Mandago) who came up with this programme give the answers. I will not carry someone's cross.”

He said he is pained by the suffering of parents and students who had to sell their property, including land, to fund the programme.

Bii said he has invited the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Authority (EACC) to investigate the scam and take appropriate action on the matter that left more than 300 students who had been told they would study in Finland and Canada stranded, more than a year after paying their fees.

The county boss claimed that the programme was privately sponsored and that the funds paid by parents were deposited in the county government's Overseas Trust Fund operated by trustees, including county officials.

Bii claimed the trust was run independently, and the county administration had nothing to do with it.

Deputy Governor John Barorot claimed the bank account only has Sh 1.8 million remaining.

“Although Tampere University decided to end its cooperation with the county and disassociated itself with the trust, parents owe the trust Sh 33 million, which forms the bulk of the deficit,” Barorot said.

He said Sh32 million, which could not be accounted for, was the subject of the EACC investigations.

Former Uasin Gishu governor, who is also the area senator, Jackson Mandago. [File, Standard]

Barorot said most students destined to study in Canada are still in the country due to visa delays.

Bii stated that owing to the challenges that have faced the programme, his administration has stopped the plan until all pending issues are resolved.

Bii’s response comes a day after parents and students, who were affected by the overseas programme, organized a demonstration and invaded a county meeting at Kapseret, demanding a refund of their money.

Parents accused the county government of taking them in circles instead of communicating with them.

The parents asked President William Ruto to intervene and ensure the county pays back their money, terming the whole process meant to airlift their children to study in Finland and Canada as a sham. 

Under the arrangement, the county government of Uasin Gishu County was to facilitate students to study in Canada and Finland under their airlift programme.

In August 2022, the county advertised the opportunities for those who were willing to study and work in the two countries and invited applications. Those interested paid at least Sh1 million each for school fees.

The majority of the stranded students were to join Thompson Rivers University in Canada and other Finnish universities, including Laurea University of Applied Sciences.