By Wycliffe Wangamati, former Bungoma Governor
On Thursday, November 3rd, 2022, Governor Ken Lusaka released what he termed as findings of three taskforces on Education Scholarship Audit, Human Resource Audit and and Pending Bills Audit.
I wish to respond to the substantive findings raised in two reports:
Scholarships and Pending Bills. I will be issuing a comprehensive statement on Human Audit Report next week.
SCHOLARSHIP FUND (BACKGROUND)
The first cohort of the Scholarship Fund joined Form 1 in 2018 and sat their KCSE in 2022. Out of 502 beneficiaries, some 407 students scored C+ and above – making it to university and other middle-tier colleges.
As a matter of fact, some of our best students have joined some of the best universities in US and in the UK. For the 4 years, none of our students was sent home for non or delayed payment of fees.
By April 2022, the programme enrolled its 5th cohort with some 7,000 needy students picked for Form 1 admission. This brought the total number of students on the Scholarship Fund over the 5 years at 10,650.
For purposes of equity, the students were always identified and picked at Village Unit level in each ward in a process that was open, transparent and which often allowed participation of the local community to corroborate details submitted by applicants.
Names of all these students, contact persons (parents/guardians) and schools admitted to are found at each of the 45 Ward Offices in the County and at the Head Office in the Department of Education and Vocational Training.
While the report raises several issues including questions of procedure. However, I will limit myself to the substantive statements that money may have been lost.
That Members of the Executive chaired Ward Committees. None whatsoever. They participated in the process during home visitations only as ex-officio members of the Committee.
Due to the high number of applicants involved and the fact that this was too important a task, we needed everybody’s hands on the deck. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta used all Cabinet Secretaries to supervise KNEC.
That identification of beneficiaries was flawed and that undeserving cases were awarded scholarships to the disadvantage of deserving cases. The process of vetting is vigorous and involves home visitations.
With the help of primary school heads, some of the very needy cases who may not even know of the existence of scholarships are flagged and guided to apply for scholarships immediately after release of KCPE results.
Even in cases where some applicants give false information, members of the public have often volunteered information that necessitated double checking. Without the taskforce giving a list of names of students classified as “undeserving”, the wards they come from and the schools admitted to, it’s hard to vouch for the credibility of their findings.
Lest we forget: It’s over the last 5 years that residents fully appreciated existence of any form of educational support in Bungoma County including bursaries and scholarships.
Unlike in the past where access to bursaries was a privilege of a few connected people, for the very first time during my time in office, needy cases sat their KCPE Exams fully aware that indeed there was help if and when they posted great results.
Their parents/guardians knew where to get that help and how to apply. Is this what anybody can describe as “lacking in transparency? Hardly. Granted, there have been a few isolated cases that made it to the list using false documents but we discontinued the scholarship immediately we established the same.
That some 7 students had been transferred but their former schools continued to receive funds. This is only possible in case of Form 1s and in First term. Note that the students apply for scholarships based on the schools they are admitted to immediately following release of KCPE results. Several, however, seek transfer to schools other than those admitted to.
When this happens, we have always advised parents/guardians at the point of selection that they furnish the Department of Education with an admission letter to the new school.
However, not all parents always acted on this promptly. For purposes of proper reconciliation, we always relied on returns from schools after closure of admissions and First Term report cards whose copies are delivered to the County Ward Offices.
In cases where our records capture a student as being in one school when in fact they are in another, we make a communication to the same effect to both schools. One such case was a young girl mistakenly admitted to Teremi by the system but who eventually ended up at Cardinal Otunga Girls. With the communication, Teremi High issued a cheque to Cardinal Otunga Girls in respect to the student.
The practice, however, has been that after reconciliation, the extra funds are normally redistributed to offset outstanding balances. No funds are lost.
That the County continued to pay fees for 18 students whose parents had paid their fees in full. Indeed, this can only happen when a student picked on scholarship is taken to a school other than the one captured at vetting.
If there is no communication to the effect that the student was transferred to another school, the student’s First Term fee will be sent to schools in the record in the Department – that is until the Department has returns on admission of students from schools and Report Cards from students.
Most times when these happens, the new schools admit the students on the basis of the Scholarship Award Letter and write to the Department in respect to students whose funds may have ended in other school. This is more a question of procedure rather than loss of funds.
That the County paid fees for 11 students, whose fees had been fully paid by other Sponsors.
When KCPE results are released, needy cases make a dash for several scholarship opportunities available including Equity’s Wing’s to Fly, Coop Bank, KCB, Family Bank, the National Government’s Elimu Scholarship and the County’s own Scholarship. Usually, there is enough time to reconcile and compare notes with other entities.
The 5th cohort, however, presented unique challenges due to the short period between release of results, application, award of scholarships and reporting time to school.
The pupils sat their KCPE Exams in March, results were out in April and in May, Form 1 were required to have reported to High School.
Some parents did communicate the fact that their children had been picked for other scholarships, a result of which support to their children was reallocated to other needy cases. Many others did not communicate and the Department was relying on returns from schools to identify and reconcile list of County-sponsored beneficiaries per school.
Instead of casting aspersions on a life-changing programme, Hon Lusaka should know that Governments run in perpetuity and reconciliation of numbers from school returns should have been done during the first week of his tenure in office. That he did not reflects on his ability honour and continue with programme or not.
That some Sh19 million may have been lost to ghost students. This is by far the most outrageous and scandalous allegation yet. If the finding was not a hurried afterthought, the taskforce would have established that all the cases they refer to as “ghost students” were in fact selected to those specific schools by the Ministry of Education’s Nemis system.
A little more investigation would have revealed that each of the said students’ scholarship application form was supported by among other things an admission letter to High School which was issued NOT by the County Government but by the Ministry of Education and printed from the Nemis Portal. At what point did they become “ghost students”? When they were selected by the Nemis system for various schools or when they were awarded scholarships by the County?
A taskforce using taxpayers’ money should not be allowed to do such shoddy work! A quick check through two of the mentioned schools reveals the following.
A quick check through two of the mentioned schools reveals the following:
Each of the beneficiaries including the so-called “Ghost Students” have contact details to their parents, respective Ward Admins and even the area Chief. A simple call to any of these contact persons would have traced the said students not just to their homes but also to schools they eventually joined. If such efforts were made, the taskforce would have realized that these are students awarded scholarships on the basis of the initial school selected to but transferred to another school. Calling them “Ghost Students” is a case giving a dog a bad name to justify its killing.
The taskforce also made careless and easy-to-spot mistakes:
First, a finding that the County may have lost up to Sh19 million to “ghost students” actually assumes that all the year’s fee due to each of the identified schools had been paid.
Up until June, only the First Term fees had been paid and the balance was due to be cleared in August with the start of a new Fiscal Year from a Sh400 million allocation provided for in the budget.
To date, only half the amount has been paid. Is the report an attempt to cover up on how half of the money meant for scholarships has been diverted to other meaningless things not provided in the budget?
Secondly, the taskforce missed the fee structure of some schools wrong. A year’s fee at Cardinal Otunga Girls is Sh35,000 and not Sh45,000 as captured in the report.
The cases they refer to as “ghost students” are in fact those awarded scholarships on the basis of an admission letter to one school but transferred to yet another without communicating to the Department of Education.
This report is no more than a shallow political script designed to achieve a selfish motive and to push an unfortunate narrative aimed at killing the scholarship scheme. If this is not true, where is the Sh200 million of the Sh400 million we had allocated to clear this year’s fees for beneficiaries? Why are Scholarship beneficiaries at home when schools are in session and in fact heading towards end of year exams? The report is aimed at diverting the public’s attention from Lusaka’s own record as the Governor in charge and his responsibility to work for the people of Bungoma. Politics is over and the people of Bungoma want to know where and how to access the trade loans he promised.
“Stop harassing staff and work with and for everybody. In 2017, worked with your Executive for 1.5 years. I never pushed anyone out. In fact, I renewed contracts of some, promoted others and worked to the end with some of your most loyal staff. It was not a favor to them. It was respect for their service to the people. You too have a duty to respect every staff member” says Wangamati.
To bandy numbers around, to trade in hearsay and to drag the names of schools through the mud without making efforts to get the correct picture hurts the reputation of schools, their management and careers of hardworking Kenyans.
What the people Bungoma needed was not shallow audit reports hurriedly put together. As residents, we needed a taskforce to find out how Lusaka will keep his promise to give scholarships to every child who scores 90 marks and above. In case he has forgotten, exams are on in December and in January, parents and their children will be counting on his word to ensure any child who scores 90 marks and above benefits from the Scholarship scheme!
Ghost projects: That payments were made to what appeared to be non-existent road projects. Isn’t it ironical that a taskforce formed to look into pending bills, value for money and project delivery actually sat down to write a report on the basis of photographs!
I have been Governor for 5 years. I can tell you that I had so much to do that I didn’t have time to attend to everything but I never ever assessed the state of any project from photographs. I always visited a project I wanted to inspect wherever it was. Here is a taskforce whose only remit was to assess projects on the ground vis a vis payments choosing to stay in hotels eating sausages and looking at photographs to write a report instead of visiting sites! This is too shoddy a report to comment upon. My only comment is that this is not the best way to use taxpayers’ money and if I did so, I would not have been able to improve roads infrastructure and other projects across the country.
Project Variation: Use of words such as “detected” and “pre-determined” in the report without material evidence suggests raw malice and special political pettiness. Project variations in themselves are not criminal. The report needed to be clear that money was lost or not and provide evidence. Purporting to read a criminal intention is the work of persons on a fishing expedition.
Contract Expiry: The taskforce identified on-going projects operating outside the contract period. They cited the dual carriageway whose contract expired in July 2022. Governments exist in perpetuity and it doesn’t take a taskforce to renew or extent the contract. It happens with 75 per cent of the capital projects in Kenya. That is what I found on Brigadier-Misikhu road in 2017. I did not transact in drama and sideshows because Midland’s contract period had expired. I let the officers in charge initiate a process to renew the contract. That is how we moved from 800 metres done between 2014 and 2017 to 19km up to Naitiri between 2018 and 2020.
Stop the political witch-hunt and concentrate on delivering on your mandate and fulfilling your promises to the people of Bungoma.
Stop harassing staff and work with and for everybody. In 2017, worked with your Executive for 1.5 years. I never pushed anyone out. In fact, I renewed contracts of some, promoted others and worked to the end with some of your most loyal staff. It was not a favor to them. It was respect for their service to the people. You too have a duty to respect every staff member.
It’s laughable for Lusaka to purport to speak about transparency. We all know him for who he is and now that he has invited us into the arena, I will be issuing a comprehensive statement next week on the state of affairs in the County since he assumed office.
To protect my integrity and the integrity of all those involved, I will be taking legal action against the County leadership and members of the taskforce in their individual capacities.