WITH tens of millions of dollars already missing in Kenya’s Ministry of Education, the corruption scandal currently rocking Kenya’s schools threatens to cost the country millions more.
With efforts to reform Kenya’s notoriously corrupt public sector ongoing, 2011 has already seen its share of scandals ripple through Nairobi and the halls of the country’s parliament.
A group of activists have been camping outside the Education Ministry’s gates with placards chanting the resignation of the Minister, an effort that has been disrupted severally.
According to Okiya Omtata, an activist the group is determined to throw out the sitting officers out of office however long it takes.
“We have declared to camp here till the officers implicated step out of office and we get new replacements to spear-head the vital ministry,” Omtata told InsideKenyaToday.
Lawmakers have been accused of trafficking narcotics, illegally importing vehicles and overpaying for foreign embassies abroad in various cases of graft. But in a country where political corruption is commonplace, a new scandal has Kenya’s politicians running for cover like never before.
In parliament, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta presented the results of an internal investigation which found that over 4.2 billion Kenyan shillings – about $46 million – was missing from the Ministry of Education.
More specifically, Kenyatta revealed the money had been stolen from President Mwai Kibaki’s landmark initiative to provide free primary education for every Kenyan.
With the stigma of stealing from Kenya’s children too great to bear, blame is being passed quickly by Kenya’s lawmakers. The heaviest criticism has thus far fallen on Education Minister Sam Ongeri, who has been forced to deflect a barrage of criticism in Kenya’s parliament.
“My conscience is free and clear because I have done my duty to the best of my ability,” said Ongeri.
He added, “I realize that this being an election year, some people would like to engage in smear campaigns.”
Ongeri was lambasted by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who said the amount stolen was actually as high as $50 million. The findings, though controversial are not actually new. The missing funds were first reported in November of last year by the a section of media.
Those involved in the Ministry of Education have maintained their innocence, but critics such as anti-corruption chief Patrick Lumumba, say they have done nothing to rout out the thieves in the months since the charges were made public.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education James Ole Kiyiapi, who oversees the ministry’s day-to-day operations, has had to defend himself against similar calls for his resignation.
“I have nothing to resign over,” said Kiyiapi.
“It is not even an issue.This is an issue I should not have ever had to explain. I am the PS who came in to help sort out the mess. I didn’t come in because I was part of the mess.” added Ole Kiyapi.
The education scandal threatens to become more than a typical Kenyan corruption case, as the release of the official report has prompted international involvement. The United Kingdom – which initially contributed about $77 million to Kenya’s free primary education program – has demanded a refund of its money.
According to Elimu Yetu Initiative, the $46 million reported missing from the Ministry of Education would be enough to cover one year of school fees for the nearly 4 million Kenyan children currently out of school.