How free education billions were stolen

Monday June 13 2011

Pupils in a library. When Treasury followed the paper trail to the schools where the money was supposed to have been disbursed, it emerged that the money “did not reach the schools”.

Photo/FILE Pupils in a library. When Treasury followed the paper trail to the schools where the money was supposed to have been disbursed, it emerged that the money “did not reach the schools”.  

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU [email protected]

More than 100 people, including top civil servants, have been targeted in a government investigation involving Sh4.2 billion fraud in the Education ministry.

They could face court action and be made to repay the money, which was lost through fraudulent claims and payments to fake bank accounts.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who revealed findings of a government audit into misuse of free school money and procurement of essential medicine in public hospitals, handed the report over to CID Director Ndegwa Muhoro.

It was a culmination of revelations by the Treasury on how senior officials in the Ministry of Education conspired to swindle the government of Sh4.2 billion of free learning money.

According to Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, the officials not only stole the money, but also manipulated the records to hide the theft.

Of the money, Sh1.9 billion was brazenly stolen, because when Treasury followed the paper trail to the schools where the money was supposed to have been disbursed, it emerged that the money “did not reach the schools”.

Assets to be sized

Education Minister Sam Ongeri joined Mr Kenyatta in saying that the focus was not going to be on prosecutions alone, but also on the recovery of the money, with the real possibility that some of the assets of those found guilty may be seized.

Prof Ongeri said that the ministry would come up with a text-messaging solution so that schools know how much has been disbursed, how much has reached and if there is any misappropriation, it is reported promptly.

The evidence unearthed by Treasury shows that the officials colluded to pay money into fake bank accounts or into accounts for unregistered schools.

The crooked officials would later follow up the money and withdraw it. “The forensic trail was able to determine the individual account numbers and details to which the returned funds were deposited and later withdrawn,” Mr Kenyatta said.

“The forensic trail revealed an attempt to cover up the discrepancy through manipulation of the cash books. The details of how it happened and the individuals involved are available.”

The details of the mega-scandal in the education sector come at a time when Treasury has its eyes trained on two other inquiries in the Ministry of Medical Services and in the Ministry of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands.

With regard to the Medical Services ministry of on the pending bills at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, the Treasury has accused the Kenya anti-Corruption Commission of sleeping on the job and has, as a result, opted to have the police handle the files.

“Though the pending bills audit report was concluded and forwarded to the Kacc in 2008, we are dissatisfied with the pace of investigations, if any, and are handing a copy of the same to the police for their further investigation and prosecution. We urge that the file be handled with expediency,” the minister said.

The report also highlights major weaknesses in the internal controls, transparency, accountability and governance mechanisms at Kemsa, and failure to adhere to the statutory procurement procedures.

The probe into the Arid Lands Resource Management Project is on-going, although, the minister is still in talks with the World Bank on how to proceed with “deep forensic audit” into allegations of fraud and misappropriation of funds.

The theft of the free learning money saw the British Government’s Department for International Development threaten to suspend the flow of money to the ministry.

After weeks of public pressure against senior officials in the ministry, some of them were suspended, while others were taken to court to answer to the charges of fraud.

The conclusion of the report is expected to lead to the prosecution of more officials who perpetrated the fraud.