Parents plan street protests over botched Finland airlift programme

Students and their parents demonstrate along Eldoret-Kiplombe road in Eldoret over the missing of school fees and airlift money for education studies in Finland. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

After nearly a month of silence, parents affected by the botched Uasin Gishu County’s Finland and Canada airlift education programme will be back to the streets starting tomorrow.

Yesterday, parents who spoke to The Standard said despite calling off the protests to pave the way for a conducive environment for the eighth devolution conference in Eldoret town last month, they were yet to get refunds of millions of shillings they paid for their children to study in the two foreign countries.

They had called off street protests at the eleventh hour to give room for the conference that was graced on the first day by President William Ruto, his deputy on the second day and opposition leader Raila Odinga on day three.

The parents have said their silence was mistaken for a retreat in the push to get their refunds.

However, 22 students were reportedly released on Monday to travel to various Finnish universities and colleges under the county programme.

Parents whose students were yet to travel to Finland and Canada maintained that they were no longer interested in the programme.

Edward Kiptek said despite President Ruto asking individuals involved in the programme to refund parents their money, the county government and persons who spearheaded the airlift initiative have turned a deaf ear to their plight.

On August 16, President Ruto told individuals behind the Uasin Gishu botched student airlift programme to immediately refund the affected parents.

“The 22 students who left for Finland on Monday had obtained Visas months ago before the programme ran into headwinds. A majority of parents are no longer interested in the programme and we will be on the streets to demand refunds,” Kiptek said.

Another parent, David Saina, said the protests will continue until they are paid their money.

“The president asked them to refund our money. They have defied him. They have remained silent on our plight. We are promising them that we are back to the streets, and they should be prepared to refund us,” he said.

The parents and their children vowed to keep agitating until they are refunded.

They also claimed the county government leadership has been taking them in circles instead of providing leadership and a solution to their challenges.

"When we called off demonstrations, we did so in good faith to pave the way for the devolution conference. We were hopeful the president would talk about our grievance and help us get our money with immediate effect. However, the county leadership led by Governor Jonathan Bii has left us stranded, and we do not see any light at the end of the tunnel," Shadrack Juma, one of the parents said.

Kimutai Kirui, a human rights defender at the forefront of seeking justice for the affected students and parents, said plans are on for today’s demonstration.

Another cohort of students heads to Finland amid row

He claimed that the lives of the affected students and parents have been ruined and that they no longer have the patience to wait any longer.

"Demonstrations seem to be the only language that our leaders understand. The parents are now holding talks, and we will confirm with you once the demos would begin," said Kirui.

Juma also poured cold water on the latest report that 22 students have travelled to Finland to begin their education under the county programme.

He questioned how most students stranded in the country will be sorted.

On August 17, Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago, who pioneered the botched programme, was arraigned in Nakuru over numerous graft-related accusations.

He was accompanied by two other defendants, Joshua Lelei and Meshack Rono.

The three are accused of conspiring to steal Sh1.1 billion from a Kenya Commercial Bank account in Eldoret registered under the Uasin Gishu Education Trust Fund.

The three denied the charges and the case will be mentioned for pretrial on October 2.

A fourth suspect, Joseph Maritim, who served as Chief Officer for Sports and Culture during Mandago's tenure as governor, was absent during the court session. He is said to have travelled to Canada on June 13.

The first count stated the accused conspired to steal Sh1.1 billion from an account domiciled at KCB in Eldoret registered under the Uasin Gishu Education Trust Fund meant for overseas university fees.

Rono and Lelei faced a second count of stealing Sh56.5 million from an account registered in the name of Uasin Gishu County Overseas Education Trust.

Mandago faced another charge of arbitrarily entering a memorandum of understanding between various universities in Finland and Canada on behalf of the county government without resolution and approval of the County Assembly.

Mandago, who is currently the Senator for Uasin Gishu, was also charged with arbitrary secondment of county staff to a private entity, namely Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust, thereby drawing a salary from the county government, which is prejudicial to the people of Uasin Gishu.