Bii, Mandago now accuse parents of sabotaging airlift programme

Parents demonstrate at Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, demanding refund of money paid for Finland and Canada airlift programe, July 10, 2023. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Uasin Gishu County leaders have blamed some parents whose children are studying in Finland and Canada for the troubles facing the county’s overseas study programme.

Governor Jonathan Bii, his deputy John Barorot and Senator Jackson Mandago, who were flanked by a host of leaders, claimed that about 322 parents were sabotaging the airlift programme by failing to settle arrears that they have incurred.

The leaders claimed that Sh96.6 million was spent from the Uasin Gishu County Overseas Trust account to offset fee arrears for the students whose classes had been cancelled and were facing deportation.

They asked the parents to return the money to the Trust account to refund those who have been protesting, demanding a refund of millions they spent on the botched airlift programme.

“It is unfortunate to see parents who committed to repay the advances they received, preparing themselves to attend the graduation ceremonies of their children abroad. Some parents here are languishing in pain having paid fees while their children are yet to travel, let them do the honourable thing and pay back as soon as possible,” said Mandago.

The leaders claimed that the committee managing the overseas account made the decision to pay Sh96.6 million to Finnish universities to save the programme.

They stated that payments were made in full per cohort and were invoiced irrespective of whether the parents had cleared the payments or not.

“Parents who benefited from that move committed to repaying back. However, they haven’t done so, forcing most 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,” added Mandago.

According to Bii, the bank account only has Sh1.8 million at the moment and a deficit of about Sh140 million.

The leaders, however, revealed that there were no binding agreements showing how the parents owing the Trust account would repay the monies.

As it stands, students studying at Tampere University are no longer paying their fees through the county trust account after the university decided to end its cooperation with the county.

Earlier, the governor had said that parents, whose children are studying at the university, owe the Trust the bulk of the amount which is expected to be repaid.

On the other hand, parents who have been demonstrating over the failed programme said they were not involved in the decision to use their children’s fees to offset arrears for the other students, who are in Finland.

Chair of the Uasin Gishu County Assembly ad-hoc committee Gilbert Chepkong’a claimed that the names of the parents who received school fee advances would be made public if they failed to repay the monies.

“We will name the parents and students who have failed to repay the money. We will name you and shame you. We will come for you, and it does not matter the position you hold in society. We cannot have a section of our parents who sold their assets continue demonstrating while your children have had their fees paid through their sweat,” the MCA warned.

Bii and his deputy have stated that the programme will be re-engineered to address the issues that resulted in the backlog.

They added that since the inception of the programme, 121 parents have opted out and applied for refunds, which amounted to Sh68 million.

The county leadership has proposed to meet the affected parents on August 3 and 4. The latest developments on the scandal come weeks after Bii and Mandago traded blame on who should be held accountable over the botched programme.

 The overseas education programme was pioneered by Senator Jackson Mandago while serving his second term as governor.

Under the programme, the Uasin Gishu County was to facilitate students to study in Canada and Finland under their airlift programme. The first cohort of students left the country in 2021 for Finland to study various programmes.

More than 900 students joined the programme, with 322 students securing places in universities in Finland and Canada. The students were required to pay Sh4 million to take a 3.5-year nursing degree at Tampere University.

A two-year practical nurse diploma course at the same university costs Euros 13,189.04 (Sh1.8 million)

The parents were required to cater for the university fees by paying to the Overseas Trust Account opened at KCB.

The fees would only be remitted to the specific universities after all parents have contributed.

The county signed agreements with some of the universities in 2021 before the students were flagged by the county government.

According to the EACC, a total of Sh838 million was received from parents towards supporting students to study at Finnish and Canadian universities.