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U.S. Suspends Kenya Education Cash

Published on Thursday 28th January 2010

The US has suspended millions of shillings earmarked for the Kenya education sector.

US ambassador Michael Ranneberger on Tuesday said the money-Sh525 million - set to be disbursed to the Education Ministry this year will stay suspended "until there is a credible, independent audit and full accountability."

"Those culpable for the fraud should not merely be sacked, they should be prosecuted and put behind bars," he said during a luncheon at the Hilton Hotel, Nairobi.

However, Education Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi told the Nation that he was "in the dark" over the funding that the US had suspended.

The move comes at a time when several top education officials are under investigation by the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission following a Sh110 million scam in which officials misappropriated Free Primary Education funds.

The major donors funding the FPE programme have had a change of heart, although the bulk of the burden - up to 95 per cent of the FPE bill - is shouldered by the government.

At the same time, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have once again come under fire from the US Government over their failure to curb corruption and the delay in prosecuting the suspects of post-election violence.

In perhaps the strongest message that implies a policy shift in the Kenya-US relations, US ambassador Michael Ranneberger also stressed on the implementation of reforms in police, judiciary and the Attorney General's office as key to his government's continued support for the coalition government.

The release of classified reports on corruption scandals - the Sh425 million maize theft, the Sh7 billion oil scandal and the secret sale of the Grand Regency Hotel (undervalued at Sh2.5 billion) - is also on the US's demand list as the Obama Administration begins its second year.

"The government also pledged to donors that it would outsource at least some operations of the National Cereals and Produce Board by September 2009. Yet there has been no progress. When will the government take this much-needed action?" he posed.

Coming just a week after President Obama spoke to the two principals, and within three days after a visit by director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Leon Panetta, the strongly worded statement is a key pointer to America's new rules of engagement in its dealings with Kenya.

The ambitious labour-intensive youth employment programme (Kazi kwa Vijana) and the huge ministerial allowances of up to Sh70,000 per day were also subject to Mr Ranneberger's criticism of the coalition government.

"It impossible to talk about prospects for development and economic growth, without clear indications that these reform issues will be addressed," Mr Ranneberger said.

With the American purse-strings tightening around the coalition government for its apathy towards reform, the same cannot be said of the civil society and other lobby groups.

Civil societies have been given Sh112 million for civic education in readiness for the referendum in May, while the Interim Independent Electoral Commission gets Sh45 million to help it do its work in voter registration.

The ongoing Constitution review process gets Sh75 million for the Committee of Experts and Sh150 million for political parties.

"It is essential that the new Constitution will end longstanding "winner take all" approach in Kenyan politics ...and will thus serve to de-emphasise the importance of ethnic electoral alliances," said the US envoy.

He expressed optimism that Kenya will get a new Constitution, although he acknowledged that he was a little pessimistic after the botched meeting at Harambee House in which both the President and the PM failed to agree and passed the mantle to the Parliamentary Select Committee.

"The development of a consensus draft and holding of successful referendum would constitute a very significant watershed for reforms," said Mr Ranneberger.

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