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Activists arrested for locking Ongeri’s office

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 22 – Ten protesters who had been arrested on Wednesday morning for locking the office of Education Minister Professor Sam Ongeri were back to Jogoo House in the afternoon, soon after police released them on bond.

The activists led by Okoiti Omtatah of the Kenyans for Justice and Development Foundation vowed to continue exerting pressure on the Minister and his Permanent Secretary Professor James Ole Kiyiapi to step aside and pave way for an investigation into the loss of Sh4.2 billion meant for the Free Primary and subsidised Secondary Education.

The activists were earlier on picked up by police from the minister\’s 2nd floor office at Jogoo House where they spent Tuesday night after sneaking there in what authorities termed as a major security lapse at the heavily guarded ministry.

“This is a major security lapse for activists to sneak into the building and lock the minister’s office. It is a serious issue which must be addressed. There are people who must answer those questions,” a security officer at Jogoo House said.

Central divisional Police chief Eric Mugambi said the activists were released on a free bond and were expected to go back to the station “whenever they are required to do so.”

Mr Omtatah and renowned activist Fredrick Odhiambo had led eight other activists chanting and wailing that Prof Ongeri must take responsibility for the loss of the education funds which have been squandered.

“Ongeri must go! Even his PS has no business staying in the office when they cannot account for the loss of Sh4.2 billion, that is why we spent the night here,” Fredrick Odhiambo, one of the activists yelled.

The group had evaded the scrutiny of security officers at Jogoo House on Tuesday evening as they walked in one by one to the Minister’s office.

They then converged at the Minister’s office where they proceeded to lock it using a padlock and a chain and pitched camp there overnight.

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“We are not going to leave this place until Ongeri quits his ministerial position. You cannot be investigated while you are in office,” Mr Omtatah said.

And as they chanted slogans, security officers tried in vain to convince them to leave.

Officials at the Ministry told Capital News that Professor Ongeri and his PS did not show up at their offices entire period the activists camped at the offices.

The minister was in Mombasa the entire day on Tuesday attending a head teachers’ conference and it was unclear if he had returned to Nairobi.

Prof Ongeri has rejected calls to quit as pressure mounts for him to take responsibility for the loss of the funds arguing that the money was misappropriated between 2005 and 2009, way before he was appointed to the Ministry.

He appeared to shift all blame to the Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi, who was in charge at the time, saying PSs are the accounting officers.

Prof Mutahi who is currently the Local Government PS has also denied responsibility for the missing funds.

An audit carried out by The Treasury has revealed fraud amounting to Sh4.2 billion at the Ministry of Education under the Kenya Education Sector Support Program (KESSP) for construction projects.

Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said last week that the forensic analysis conducted by his Internal Audit Department exposed numerous attempts to cover up the fraud that saw Sh1.9 billion failing to reach 512 primary schools for construction projects.

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"The forensic trail revealed an attempt to cover up the discrepancy through manipulation of the cash books. The details of how it happened and the individuals involved are now available," Mr Kenyatta had said.

The audit also unveiled discrepancies totalling Sh2.27 billion, which did not tally with the Ministry\’s records and bank account balances.

A further Sh3.1 million was deposited in bank accounts for schools, which did not have Teacher Service Commission (TSC) codes implying that the schools that received the funds were not recognised.

The individuals behind the fraud subsequently withdrew the money.

The final forensic report, however, falls short of the initial Sh8.2 billion that the Treasury had said was lost in the scam.

Eighteen senior officers at the Ministry of Education were suspended when the scam was first unearthed in 2009 for allegedly misappropriating Sh37 million.

The revelations prompted the international development groups that were funding the Free Primary Education Program to call for prosecution of those responsible.

The British aid agency, Department for International Development (DFiD) and the World Bank have sponsored KESSP to the tune of $90m (Sh7.2 billion) and $100m (Sh8 billion), respectively.

The misappropriation of the Sh4.2 billion accounts for one percent of the Sh489 billion allocated to KESSP from 2005 to 2009.

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