Governor, senator in blame game over controversial student airlift programme

Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago at his office in Elgonview Estate in Eldoret on Friday, July 14, 2023, when he addressed the media on the controversial students Finland-Canada student airlift programme that saw parents lose millions of shillings. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Uasin Gishu governor Jonathan Bii and his predecessor Jackson Mandago are trading accusations over a controversial student airlift programme that is under investigation over the alleged loss of Sh33 million.

Under the arrangement initiated by the former regime, the students would be taken to universities in Finland and Canada, under an alleged deal, between the county government and these countries.

Parents of students who were interested in the programme paid millions of shillings for their children to travel to the two countries where they were promised they would study and work.

However, since August 2022 when the county government advertised the programme and invited applications, the students are yet to fly out for the studies. No one is willing to explain where the millions of shillings parents paid to facilitate the programme went.

Each of the parents paid at least Sh1 million to the programme that is now under investigation by Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

Some of the parents who stormed the county offices in Kapseret on Monday demanding a refund of their money lamented that they sold everything they had to raise the money.

And on Wednesday, Bii has distanced himself from the controversial student airlift programme saying he did not initiate it and knows nothing about it.

Consequently, Bii challenged Mandago, now the area senator, to come clean on the scandal that was mooted by his administration when he served as governor.

“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.”

"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.”

Uasin Gishu Governor Jonathan Bii addressing the press over the controversial students Finland-Canada student airlift programme in Eldoret on July 11, 2023. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

And on Friday, Mandago came out to state that the overseas account had a total of Sh104.7 million by the time he left office. From the amount, the bank had Sh37.5 million while the students' locked account had Sh67.2 million.

He wondered how the account now has just Sh1.8 million, as claimed by Bii and his deputy John Barorot during a press briefing on Wednesday.

Mandago has said that he is ready to record statements with the EACC and DCI and cooperate on any required information or documentation.

He said that when he left office after last year's elections, he handed over all the duties of the county to his successor, Bii.

“When I handed over on August 25 last year, I expected the governor to provide leadership and if there are any issues or challenges, he calls me to the table as the former governor and initiator of the programme. I am responsible for all my errors of commission and omission. I cannot run away from a programme I initiated,” said Mandago.

He said he is ready to work with Bii and affected parents and students to resolve the matter.

Mandago claimed Bii has downplayed the issue and chose to blame him instead of calling him to discuss the future of the programme he termed noble and meant to support and empower the youth.

“When the governor goes to the press and says everyone should carry his own cross, I agree with him and I will do so to the extent that I exited office on August 25, 2022, and handed it over to him,” said Mandago.

The senator faulted Bii and his deputy Barorot for failing to address demonstrating parents who had invaded their meeting on Monday last week, saying that leaders should have invited the agitated parents and listened to their complaints.

Bii said he was pained with the state of the parents and students who have sold their assets, paid their fees and are still stranded in the country.

He said that he had involved the EACC to conduct thorough forensic investigations into the overseas trust account in order to unearth the truth.

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

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

Barorot claimed that the bank account only has Sh1.8 million at the moment and that there is a deficit of Sh138 million.

“Although Tampere University decided to end its cooperation with the county and disassociate with the trust, the parents owe the trust Sh33 million, which forms the bulk of the deficit,” Barorot said.