Sunday, 4 September 2016

HELB frustrating graduates with hefty fines

The other day, my colleague at work initiated a debate on The Higher Education Loans Board, loans repayment terms and consequences of defaulting.
He, just like many others, was a beneficiary of the money disbursed to university students upon successful application.

However, he has not started repaying the loan and strongly feels the Board is frustrating unemployed youth with ‘hefty’ fines in case the repayment terms aren’t followed to the latter.
HELB slaps former university students who do not start repaying the loans one year after course completion with a monthly fine of KSh5,000.

Unemployment is an enormous crisis in Kenya, with millions of university graduates stranded with their degrees and diploma certificates scouting for jobs. Let me at this point call him ‘Jeremy’ – not his real name.
Jeremy argued that the government was doing very little to aid the youth secure jobs immediately after graduating from tertiary institutions of learning. Many at times one only secures a job because they have ‘god fathers’ in those companies. Things have shifted from ‘are you qualified for the job to ‘do you know anybody?’

Since securing a job after graduating has become a tall order, with some youth opting to use placards in public places seeking employment, why is HELB frustrating graduates with the heavy fines?

PHOTO: Courtesy-
In a nutshell, he was saying the Board should do away with the fine and set up a system to track those who have landed jobs and deduct reasonable amount of money from their salaries to repay the loans.
As the debate developed and everyone in the office waded into the conversation, something else came to the fore; the requirement of KSh1,000 by HELB in order to be awarded a clearance certificate, regardless of whether you never benefited from the fund.

Personally I never received a loan from HELB, and here I am, being told to pay a fee of KSh1,000 to prove that I didn’t receive any loan from the loans board.
Methinks the government and the board are frustrating university graduates.
Education has become a burden to the youth, in terms of affordability. Employers too do not want to hire uneducated staff.

Our Members of Parliament have the obligation to put HELB to question why graduates are being subjected to heavy fines and the Ksh1,000 requirement for clearance.
Today, one cannot land a job in the public sector without the HELB certificate. Basically, this means if I never benefited from the fund and I have no source of income, I cannot get a job at the county or national government – because I don’t have money to prove I never received a loan! This is what I would call robbery without violence.

The President should rise to the occasion and save graduates from this stress of having to pay fines because they have not landed jobs.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Why Kenyan electorate must crack the whip in 2017

On March 4, 2013, Kenyans went to the polls with a lot of optimism that the decision they would make by casting their ballots would transform their lives.

Among the critical issues they wanted addressed were inequitable distribution of resources, inadequacies in health care services provision, unemployment- especially among the youth and corruption.

The 2010 constitution came with the devolved units or counties.
Kenyans were promised that devolution would spread development at the grassroots, as opposed to when financial resources were solely managed and controlled by the central government.

Devolution, was also to create employment to the jobless at the remotest parts of the country.
The idea of coming up with devolved units, methinks, was long overdue. Indeed change has been witnessed- in infrastructure development such as roads and provision of clean water for households.

The youth, women and persons with disabilities have also benefited greatly through their self-help groups funded by some county governments. They have been able to- through income generating activities such as dairy farming- to earn a living and revamp their living standards.

It is clearly with no doubt that if taken seriously, devolution will see Kenyans reap big though development projects.
However, some county government officials have been accused of misappropriating taxpayers’money, by diverting funds meant for development projects to their pockets.
Former President Mwai Kibaki lifts the 2010 Constitution during its promulgation

Despite county governors claiming that the national government on several occasions delayed to disburse funds to counties, shocking reports by the Auditor General Edward Ouko revealed that the common mwananchi was losing a lot of money to corruption.

It is quite unfortunate that some county leaders have engaged in corruption since they ascended to power instead of serving those who bestowed the mandate to them.
One of the major highlights of the year 2015 was when reports emerged that the Bungoma County government spent over Sh1 million to purchase 10 wheelbarrows- each costing about Sh109, 000.

Up to date, no one has been brought to the fore and prosecuted in relation to the infamous saga. This speaks volumes on how the government is non-committal to make graft a thing of the past.
In counties such as Homa Bay, Nyamira and Kisii, Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) swindled public funds by claiming that they were in ‘some seminars’- where they claimed millions of shillings each in allowances for seminars they never attended after all, according to the Auditor General’s report.

Also, some luxurious expenditures were made by county officials in the 2014/2015 fiscal year with no documents to back them up.

One of the loud promises that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto made when they assumed office after the disputed 2013 general election was to eliminate corruption and to bring to book those found guilty of the same.

Several former Cabinet Secretaries- among them Charity Ngilu (Lands), Michael Kamau (Transport), Felix Koskei (Agriculture) and Kazungu Kambi (Labour), Anne Waiguru (Devolution) have since faced graft allegations and were investigated by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

As customary, none of the accused has become a casualty of the wheels of justice.
In August 2017, the electorate will again make decisions at the ballot as demanded by the constitution to democratically elect MCAs, MPs, Senators, Women Representatives, Governors, the President and his deputy.

It is quite unfortunate that the electorate in the previous elections have voted along ethnic lines. This has always created tension and conflicts that lead to loss of lives of supporters of aspirants, especially those gunning for the country’s top post, president.

The 2007/2008 post-election violence is a good historic example of tribal conflicts that led to loss of over 1,000 lives and displacement of millions of people.

This is what has led to inequitable distribution of resources, such as construction of roads, given that roads function is currently not devolved fully.

Appointments to top state jobs have also been determined by political affiliations, loyalty and tribe origins. These are some of the things that the electorate must put to an end to when they go to the ballot to vote in their leaders.

Kenyans must shun bribery by aspirants and elect leaders who they believe can transform the country for the better, and advantage to future generations.

Kenyans must rise against negative ethnicity and avoid being divided along tribal lines by politicians during election campaigns and elect leaders based on what they have on the table in terms of development agenda and ideologies.

Kenyans must shun the culture of ‘I cannot vote for Uhuru, Raila, Ruto or Mudavadi because he does not belong to my tribe’.

They must crack the whip come 2017 elections on corrupt legislators, county officials and top state officers so that we can have a better country where the common wananchi will benefit from the fruits of devolution.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Punish those responsible for Strathmore fiasco

In the wake of the recent sporadic terrorism attacks in the country, Strathmore University, Madaraka campus organised a terror attack drill on Monday, November 30.
The outcome was one university staff member lost her life and several students sustained severe injuries.
The university through its official twitter page (@StrathU) confirmed that Esther Kidemba, 33, succumbed to serious head injuries as a result of the stampede at the campus during the drill.
The twitter page also confirmed that at least 25 students were receiving treatment at Mater Hospital, and Nairobi West Hospital, as at Monday night.
Strathmore University students scampering
 for safety after the Monday, November 30 scare (PHOTO/ Courtesy
Some of the students also claimed that they lost important property including laptops and mobile phones during the stampede that also paralysed business activities near the institution.
In as much as it is important to prepare students and Kenyans at large for terror attacks, it is necessary that institutions organising security drills ensure that loss of lives are not witnessed in what is supposed to create safety awareness.
Security experts should have been consulted to avert loss of life and other casualties.
It is not worth losing a life or lives in mock exercises and the incident at Strathmore University ought to be thoroughly investigated by police and those found culpable of laxity and negligence during the process be brought to book.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Seal graft loopholes to efficiently fund future salary increments

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to back Industrial Court order and Court of Appeal’s ruling to award teachers a salary increment of 50-60 per cent was indeed a big win to all public teachers nationwide.

The National Treasury has since warned that the taxpayer will have to dig deep into his pockets to raise the Sh 17 billion required to effect teachers’ salary increment.
Just recently, the Auditor General, Edward Ouko raised the red flag over massive corruption in National and county governments. The Auditor in his report revealed that expenditures of up to Sh 67 billion were not backed up with proper documentation in counties and national government ministries.
PHOTO: Courtesy, Nation Media Group

This undeniably was not the first time that an Audit Report exposed graft in the government.
There have also been concerns about payment of ‘ghost workers’ and the government losing billions of shillings in procurement processes- the most recent being the National Youth Service (NYS) saga where reports emerged that at least Sh 826 million were illegally transferred to unknown bank accounts through procurement.

County officials have been reported to be spending lavishly in foreign trips, money which can be used to remunerate hard working employees such as teachers- who play a major role in nurturing talent and future generation leaders. Basically, teachers play a big role in children upbringing as the education system dictates that a child spends more time with the teacher in school than the parent.
The government should devise ways of appraising employees and motivate them- through monetary means, bearing in mind that the cost of living has gone up.

Therefore, to effect the Court’s directive to pay teachers a salary increment of 50-60 per cent, it will be prudent for the government to seal all loopholes of corruption to avoid leakage of taxpayers’ money into the wrong hands.
If our leaders walk the talk to fight graft, the common mwananchi will not have to pay more tax to finance salary increment of teachers or government employees.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

School tragedies call for divine intervention

Arsonist attacks, mass killings of students by Al Shabaab, drowning of students in the Indian Ocean and the most recent being students having sex in broad day light in a bus and taking alcohol and bhang. These are some of the unfortunate happenings that have dogged the education sector in the recent past.
Have we in any way wronged God? I think it’s high time the country held a national prayer meeting to seek for forgiveness from Him. Maybe through this, the education sector will be set free from all these misfortunes.

Second worst terrorist attack in Kenya
On 2nd April this year gunmen stormed the Garissa University College at 5am when the students were attending their morning preps and others were sleeping in their dormitories. The terrorists put the college under siege for almost 9 hours. Some of the survivors of Kenya’s second worst terrorist attack after the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya said that the gunmen set free Muslim students and murdered Christians. Kenya lost at least 147 young brains in the horrific attack. Various security agencies were faulted for response delays to counter the terrorists. 
Losing such a big number of students is a tragedy to any nation. It robs a country of its potential creative innovators and entrepreneurs. It hacks the country’s economy because the youth are the main anchors of economic growth. They contribute towards a large percentage of employees both in the formal and informal sector. This attack once again reminded the country that probably we needed to seek God’s forgiveness for our wrong doings. Did we seek His holy hand to prevent more tragedies that could befall the education sector? No.

Stephjoy fire tragedy
On 3rd August 2015, arsonists struck Stephjoy Boys High School in Kiambu County, setting a dormitory on fire. Three students died following the incident which is believed to have been orchestrated by students from the same school.
Why would a group of students decide to set a dormitory on fire while their colleagues who they play, chat and eat together with are sleeping? Methinks the devil was manifesting his powers through the arsonists. This again is an unfortunate tragedy that should bring all Kenyans together to pray so that we may overcome such evil, lest we fall prey again before we recover from it.
This is not the only fire incident to have rocked a learning institution Kenya. In August 2012, 8 pupils of Asumbi Girls Boarding Primary School in Homa Bay County died after a fire destroyed their dormitory. The young girls were burnt beyond recognition in a fire believed to have been caused by an electricity fault.In March 2001, 58 students from Kyanguli Secondary School in Machakos County were burnt to death after fire razed their dormitory. 28 others were seriously injured. The fire was believed to have started in the early hours at the main boys’ dormitory of the mixed school.

Students found abusing drugs and having sex
Just five days ago, the country was treated to a shocking incident where 35 high school students were caught red handed smoking bhang, drinking alcohol and having sex in a bus- at day time! It was the villagers in Karatina who blew the whistle when they witnessed what can be well described as happenings in a ‘horror movie’. The students, through messages christened on the bus they were riding on claimed that they were having fun, and that they should not be interrupted.
This is what can be called the epitome of moral decadence in a society. Public indecency in the name of having fun is totally unacceptable. To make it worse, students presumably in their teens were involved. It gave the country a clear picture of what the future generation will look like- something intriguing and embarrassing. We should be very afraid. So who is to blame for such immoral behaviour of students? Parents? Teachers? Well, both of them have roles to play in the upbringing of the student.
Our education system demands that the student spends most of his or her time at school. Both parents and teachers therefore contribute towards moulding morally upright students who can uphold the demands of the society by exhibiting discipline and high moral standards.

Seven pupils drown in the Indian Ocean
On 12th August 2015, another tragedy visited St. Martin Primary School, Kahuro in Murang’a County. Seven pupils from the school drowned in the Indian Ocean, at Pavilion Beach. The pupils were on a tour at the coastal beach when furious tides swept them, leaving them lifeless.
The church and our leaders should call for a national prayer day to ask the all mighty God to help us overcome future tragedies that may take away innocent lives and interfere with learning in our schools. With this the enemy will be defeated, I believe.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Outlaw National examinations in primary and secondary schools

The proposed legislative Bill by Karachuonyo Member of Parliament James Rege to have national examinations for primary and secondary schools scrapped off is long overdue.

Once students are through with national exams, they vow never to look back at their books. Some set their books on fire in what they call ‘academic fire’ after sitting for their final exams in secondary school. This is a clear signal that they do not value what they learn in school. It demonstrates that they are compelled to study to pass exams.

Completing the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) Examinations to many is usually a sign of freedom, freedom from intense studying.
This is a clear indication that students only read to pass exams and not to gain anything to help them contribute positively towards entrepreneurial innovations that offer self-employment and solutions to problems facing the society such as the pricking unemployment rate in the country.

The 8-4-4 education system can well be crafted to equip learners with entrepreneurial lessons and assessments based on projects and not sitting examinations.
It is quite unfair to determine the fate of students after 4 years of studying in two weeks by giving them grades based on what they score in exams. Examinations do not necessarily promote learning, instead it encourages cramming of notes for the sake of passing exams. Failing exams do not mean that a student is bound to be a failure in life. People are differently abled in the society. Some are gifted, excel and earn a living by engaging in sports, music and the film industry- just to mention a few.
There is need to re-design the syllabus to exploit the potential that underlies in students.
We have on many occasions been treated to stories about successful entrepreneurs who failed in their national exams but have excelled in fields such as entrepreneurship, sports and art.
It is therefore a wake-up call for the stakeholders in the education sector to re-look at the syllabus provided to students to develop a holistic individual who can greatly contribute towards economic development through innovations and business.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Devolved Corruption?

It is two year and a few months since devolution set its foot in 47 counties in the country. Many have hailed devolution, pegging their arguments on resources reaching the common mwananchi unlike before when we had the central government controlling all the resources and managing all development projects across the country.
It is true that a lot has changed, thanks to devolution. Many have gotten jobs-the youth and semi-skilled persons through various projects in the counties- road constructions, building of offices for county chiefs, water projects- just to mention a few.

But on the other hand, concerns have been raised on how Governors, County Executive Officers and Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) engage in excessive expenditures of county funds. They have spent millions of shillings on trips abroad and uncalled for allowances while performing duties they are already paid for. The governors have however refuted claims of graft in their counties. They launched their “Okoa Kenya” Campaign- to fight for more funds allocation to the counties, arguing that the national government is against devolution.
Recent revelations by the Auditor General’s Report on counties financial mismanagement is however appalling. Edward Ouko in his report indicated that some counties engaged in unlawful procurement procedures and awarding of unnecessary allowances to county officers (excessive spending). This is not the first time questions are being raised regarding misappropriation of funds in counties.

The controller of budget has on a number of occasions pointed out that some counties still do not have the capacity to absorb the funds they are asking for from the national government. I will agree with her on this, looking at how much money is returned to the National Treasury at the end of every financial year by the counties. For example, counties returned Sh. 30 billion at the end of fiscal year 2014/2015.
The Auditor indicated that counties such as Homabay, Nyamira, Kitui, Garissa and Kisii engaged in excessive spending in the just ended financial year.
The report says that at one time in Nyamira County 33 MCAs were paid a total of Sh. 340,000 for lunch allowances as they discussed the Financial Bill. That means that each MCA pocketed a cool Sh 10,000 as lunch allowance.

In Homa Bay, the report reveals how MCAs made double claims for travel and accommodation allowances totalling to Sh 1.3 Million. The MCAs claimed that they were in Mombasa for six days. Shockingly, they were at the same time attending a county assembly forum at the ACK Guest House in Homa Bay.
 The Audit Report also raised the red flag on procurement, questionable recruitment of staff and unsupported for payment of big allowances to county officers. These include inflation of costs of projects such as construction of executive offices and conference rooms.
This just but a tip of an iceberg as far as graft is concerned in the devolved governments because the full report has not been made public by Mr. Ouko.
The shocking revelations indicate that corruption has been devolved to counties- at the expense of engaging the many unemployed youth in entrepreneurial activities such as availing funds for their projects to curb the pricking crisis of unemployment.