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Corruption Steals School Money from Kenyan Children

Map of Kenya and Eritrea

Map of Kenya and Eritrea

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki is coming under increasing pressure to dismiss the minister of education and other senior officials after the discovery that more than $1.3 million have vanished from a fund that provides free primary education to millions of children in the country.

The head of a Kenyan public advocacy group called National Action Network says the latest corruption scandal is so egregious, there could be mass unrest unless the government acts quickly to identify and punish those responsible for the theft.

Godfrey Wanjihia says the scandal could affect as many as one-million schoolchildren and their families throughout Kenya.

"This has affected every inch of this country, and the children and the parents are up in arms about the players behind the scandals," said Godfrey Wanjihia. "We are lobbying the members of parliament to cut short their Christmas holiday so that they can debate this matter, which is of grave concern to every Kenyan. We need this to be taken as a very serious issue and Kenyans now need a bottom-up approach against corruption in this country."

The furor began on December 11, when Britain's Department for International Development announced suspension of payments to the Ministry of Education, after the discovery that since June more than $1.3 million had been stolen from the Kenyan Free Primary Education Program.

The money was part of a government-run fund, set up in January 2003 to introduce free primary school education in Kenya for the first time in its history. Since 2005, the fund had been largely supported by the Department for International Development, which set aside nearly $93 million to help pay for textbooks, curriculum development and teacher training until 2010.

The fund has helped double the enrollment of children in Kenya's 18,000 primary schools to 80 percent and increase literacy rate to 74 percent.

The British aid agency says future funding will depend entirely on the actions taken by the Ministry of Education to prosecute individuals involved in fraud, replacing the stolen money and improving the financial management systems.

As many as 26 ministry officials are currently being investigated by Kenya's Anti-Corruption Commission for theft. But critics say the commission has no prosecutorial powers, and in the past it has not acted against senior officials accused of corruption, even if they were found to be responsible.

National Action Network and other civil society groups say President Kibaki must take the first step toward ending the culture of impunity by dismissing the Minister of Education Sam Ongeri and his deputies. Mr. Ongeri says he will not resign.

He says it is ridiculous to demand the resignation of ministers whenever ministry workers are accused of corruption because there would be no ministers left in government.

Kenya holds the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt country in East Africa and is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.