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UK blocks Sh2.3bn over graft in education

Tuesday March 16 2010

British High Commissioner Rob Macaire.

British High Commissioner Rob Macaire. Photo/FILE 

By SAMUEL KUMBA and MAYAKA GEKARA

The British have stopped funding of the free education programme through the Kenya government due to corruption.

Instead, they will channel their Sh2.3 billion support through non-governmental agencies in the next financial year. The British government’s financial year starts in April.

Another Sh1.16 billion that would have been disbursed by the end of this month will not be spent, British High Commissioner to Kenya Rob Macaire announced on Tuesday.

The Sh1.16 billion includes Sh580 million meant for the Ministry of Education’s Kenya Education Sector Support Project and a similar figure for improving water and sanitation in poor schools.

Mr Macaire said the decision was made due to what he described as the government’s laxity to act on the corruption reported at the Ministry of Education.

According to the department for international development (UKaid), the total estimated loss from the education pool at this stage is Sh230 million.

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The diplomat who was speaking at Our Lady of Mercy Secondary in Nairobi said details on how the cash will be distributed were being worked on.

However, the agency may provide support directly to schools in the form of grants, infrastructure development and textbooks.

They are also said to be exploring the option of involving parents, teachers and the school communities to monitor spending of the cash.

Corruption claims

The decision flies in the face of Education minister Sam Ongeri’s denial of corruption claims in his ministry.

On Monday, Prof Ongeri said the scandal over misappropriation of schooling cash which has dogged the ministry for months was a creation of journalists.

“The media has been blowing issues out of proportion by implying that corruption is rampant,” Prof Ongeri said adding, “This is far from the truth because we have spent Sh19 billion allocated to the ministry efficiently save for the cases which we identified and took action.”

The UK says it has done enough to address the risks of fraud to justify a resumption of their funding which they suspended in September last year.

However, they will continue supporting the programme.

“To pull out of education completely, as some have suggested we do, would only harm Kenyan school children,” he said.

There was argument on Tuesday that although the Kenyan government had made some progress with conditions for resumption of donor funding, the benchmarks set had not been fully met.

The diplomat said his country lacked confidence that the necessary systems had been put in place to ensure schooling money is not stolen

Earlier, Britain was encouraged that the Kenyan government systems had uncovered the fraud and that initial action was swift. It had hoped to resume funding through government quickly, before the government seemed to lose steam on its action.

No funding has been disbursed since fraud was revealed at the ministry in September 2009. The donors had asked the government to carry out a complete audit of the ministry’s spending of the education cash, provided before they can resume support.

The government was asked to address issued on the financial audit of October 9 last year before funding can be resumed. That has not been done.

The donors have also demanded that officials found by the audit to have committed fraud be investigated and charged in court.

Some Education ministry officials have been arraigned in court for alleged fraud.

The other requirement for resumption of funding was that all funds lost through fraud be reimbursed to the contributors to the pooled fund, which has not been done.

Besides the UK, UN agency Unicef, Canada and the World Bank support the programme.

There was also a requirement that the ministry of Education provide evidence of suitable progress against an action plan agreed by all pooling partners for strengthening financial management.

The government points out that an action plan to strengthen financial management had been drafted but the government has not yet taken all the actions required to reassure partners that fraud will not happen again.

“We are disappointed that we have had to take the decision to stop direct funding through the ministry of Education,” said the head of the Department for International Development Alistair Fernie.

Mr Fernie was categorical that until they are certain the all loopholes for embezzlement are sealed, agency cannot fund through the government.

Responsibility to taxpayers

“We have a responsibility to UK taxpayers to ensure their money is spent on its intended purpose – just as the government of Kenya has a similar responsibility to its taxpayers, and to all Kenyan parents and school children,” he said.

The widespread fraud at the ministry of Education was brought to the fore by a Ministry of Finance’s internal audit department report in September last year which indicated that over Sh91 million could be accounted for within one month: June 2009.

An earlier inter-ministerial committee report on the validation of findings of the in-depth risk based fiduciary review of the KESSP Phase I had recommended suspension or prosecution of the various officials who could not account for the missing funds.

The UK has proposed an extended audit into KESSP’s entire accounts for 2007-09 so as to determine the expenditure of the education kitty funds, a project they are ready give both financial and technical assistance.

It is after such an audit that the Kenyan Government, its public and the donors would have a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.

The audit has, however, been delayed due to the fact that schools would soon break for holiday in addition to the fact that logistics of travel and accommodation of the 220 auditors to crisscross the country for the investigations are not yet complete.

Mr Macaire took issue with the major corruption scandals recently witnessed in the maize, education, oil and local government sectors all of which he said directly impact on the lives of Kenyans.

According to him, it amounts to stealing funds that were meant for development for all Kenyans and which Kenyan taxpayers largely provide.

In all that he, however, sees an opportunity by the government to show that it is serious in tackling corruption, not just in education but across all sectors, and back up its words with action.

“Kenyan public, too, has a role to play too in continuing to demand greater accountability and rejecting corruption at all levels of society.

We will support those within Government and outside of it who are genuinely trying to bring about that change, “ declared the envoy.