In May 2021, the Uasin Gishu County Government in Kenya partnered with Tampere University, Finland, in a programme that would see students from the devolved unit airlifted to live, study and work in the foreign country.
It was a dream come true for many, given the yearning of young Kenyans to join universities overseas.
Many, especially those from humble backgrounds, had enthusiastically applied for the opportunity, hoping it would save them from the tedious immigration processes that come with obtaining travel documents.
The first batch of learners left the country in September 2021, three months after the deal was signed – the 51 students were to pursue medicine and other science-related courses: 25 were going to pursue degree courses and 26 were to pursue diplomas.
The icing on the cake was that the successful applicants in the programme were guaranteed employment in Finland upon completion of their courses.
Because of this, many families took a chance, organising fundraisers to raise the fees to enable their sons and daughters to pursue the dream that would elevate them from their challenging backgrounds.
The county government went ahead to open an account – the Uasin Gishu County Government Overseas Trust Fund – at KCB Bank to collect the tuition fees the students were required to pay.
Under the deal, the devolved unit was to act as a guarantor for the students in their respective universities in payment of their tuition fees.
The county government agreed to collect money from the parents and remit it as a lump sum, thus there was no agreement between parents and the universities to pay the tuition fees directly to the institution.
On September 14, 2021, former Governor Jackson Mandago (now the county senator) flagged off the first batch of 51 students to travel to Finland to study in a partnership that sought to produce qualified health personnel for the international labour market, while at the same time addressing youth unemployment.
Some of the parents are demanding a refund of their money terming the entire arrangement a scam.
The complaints prompted the formation of an ad hoc committee to establish the legal framework on which the Finland scholarship programme was anchored. The team is looking into whether there is a memorandum of understanding between the county government and the targeted Finland universities.
The committee was informed that 202 students are in Finland under the programme, which was to be implemented at Tampere, Jyvaskala and LUT universities, among others. According to the county education department, Max-global acted as the agent in the recruitment of students and the county stood in for the bank statements for the students.
The ad-hoc committee has recommended disciplinary action against officials implicated in the scam. It has further recommended a refund of money paid as fees by parents under the much-hyped Uasin Gishu students airlift programme. The committee found out that senior County officials colluded with Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and agents to fleece parents of millions in a Finnish scholarship scandal that saw learners airlifted and dumped in Europe.
Following its investigation, the team, whose report was endorsed by the county assembly for consideration, now wants the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and other relevant agencies to move in and investigate the implicated senior county officials for forgery, abuse of office and integrity.
The committee led by Mr Gilbert Chepkonga has endorsed the recovery of the stolen money to support some of the students who are said to be stranded in Finnish universities.
According to the report, the Uasin Gishu County Government, under the stewardship of former Governor Jackson Mandago, now the Uasin Gishu Senator, opened the ‘Uasin Gishu County Government Overseas Trust Fund’ account in Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) for purposes of receiving tuition fees for the students benefiting from the scholarship programme.
Protesting parents led by Mr Reuben Chepses Koech told the committee those who applied for the opportunity were required to pay an interview fee of Sh6,500, but were not issued with receipts for the payment.
The students were then required to pay 8,650 euros — equivalent to Sh1.19 million in school fees, Sh80,000 accommodation fee for three months, Sh30,000 insurance fee, Sh49,000 for a visa, Sh5,000 for Covid test and 100,000 for their flights.
The eligible candidates were issued with acceptance letters from their respective universities, while the County Government of Uasin Gishu issued them with a certificate of a full scholarship.
On September 14, 2021, Mr Mandago flagged off the first batch of 51 students to travel to Tampere to study in various fields, in the partnership that sought to produce qualified health personnel for the international labour market, while at the same time addressing youth unemployment.
However, according to the report by the committee, the implementation of the programme was a highly guarded secret that even then-county head of Education Joseph Kurgat was kept in the dark, despite it being under his docket.
Mr Kurgat told the committee that the programme was not discussed at the county Cabinet level and no policy framework was tabled for Cabinet approval.
Case with KCB
While accusing KCB officials of being part of the bigger plot, the committee is demanding a forensic financial audit of the Uasin Gishu Education Overseas Trust Account at the KCB Eldoret East branch, and that county employees mentioned as beneficiaries of the transactions from the account be suspended pending investigations.
According to bank statements tabled before the committee, several individuals, including senior county officials are among the irregular beneficiaries of funds meant for the students.
“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,” said the report.
The committee further wants KCB to investigate and take necessary action against its staff for professional negligence, by allowing the Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust Account to be opened without conducting due diligence.
The report reveals that some trustees heavily benefited financially from withdrawals from the account, although they were not entitled to a monetary benefit.
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