As one of the architects of Vision 2030 and having been Minister of State for Planning and National Development, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya appreciates the critical role education plays in sustaining the country economically. He also knows that providing funds towards fulfilling this role comes with its fair share of challenges due to budgetary constraints and multiple priority areas.
“When I became Governor of Kakamega county, the first thing I did was set up an education taskforce just to see how Kakamega as a county was doing education-wise, having had my experience as Minister at the national level,” he recalls.
The Taskforce was headed by Prof Laban Ayiro, career educationist and current Vice Chancellor of Daystar University. In its report back to the governor the Taskforce identified gaps including a funding one between the funds availed by HELB nationally and the needs of students in the county, having approached education as youth-empowerment measure and a concurrent function of his then-fledgling county government.
With this novel idea, the governor had to build consensus within his Executive as well as with the County Assembly. Public participation was encouraged to raise awareness and find ways to address the gap identified by the Taskforce Report, which necessitated the need to create a Fund.
“I then had to convince members of the County Assembly, based on facts, that here is a Report put forward by the experts and obviously they approved this Fund,” he says, acknowledging that his experience as a legislator representing Butere constituency has made it easier for him to approach and work with the MCAs.
In 2016, with the backing of his MCAs, the Kakamega County Education Fund was introduced.
Through legislation, the Fund is protected from the political turbulence that comes with changes in county governments and the county government has agreed to set aside Sh20million per year towards the Fund.
“We want this Fund to grow up to Sh500million. I’m assuming that the incoming government will respect the legislation that is there. If this Fund can reach Sh500million, plus the HELB support, I am very optimistic that every student from Kakamega county will have no problem,” the Governor, a certified public accountant and expert in finance management and business consultancy, notes.
Before the Fund was created, the county government simply provided money in the Budget and applicants would approach the County Department of Education, a model that according to the governor was wrought with political interference. This created too much pressure on the governor and the Department of Education. By creating the Fund and letting it be managed by HELB, an independent arbiter, the Fund was insulated and free from political interference. So far the county has put in Sh120milion towards the Kakamega County Education Fund.
“If all counties, the 47, followed my example then obviously that gap would be bridged. If all counties were to put in Sh120million, that would be over Sh5billion, money that would bridge that funding gap,” he asserts his view that if every county had such a Fund then all students would access education and that Kakamega should be a benchmark on how to set up an Education Fund, for both continuing and incoming county government bosses.
Currently the Kakamega County Education has helped over 10,000 students in universities, over 2,500 pursuing courses in medical colleges as well as others in fields such as teacher training. This achievement is a source of joy for the outgoing governor and he acknowledges the key role HELB plays in collecting repayments that are then rolled back to fund even more students.
“I want to thank those students that have finished university, have realised the importance of the Fund and are paying back for the benefit of other needy students. This is a Fund for posterity, a Fund that is protected under County Assembly legislation and it can only be stopped if that legislation is repealed by the same County Assembly,” he says of one of his legacy projects.