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Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

 

Consumers hard hit as millers raise maize flour prices

By BARNABAS BII
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The prices have increased by about Sh5 for the two-kilogramme packet of maize flour, signalling hard times for most households already grappling with increased fuel costs.

“The rise in fuel prices has forced us to raise the cost of our product to sustain our operations, passing the burden to consumers who will have to pay more,” said Mr Kipngetich Mutai, of Ineet Millers in Uasin Gishu County.

A two-kilo packet of flour that was used to retail at Sh85 will be selling at Sh90 as some of the consumers opt for flour from local posho mills, which is relatively cheaper. The posho mills sell a two-kilogramme tin of maize for Sh40, and charge Sh10 to grind it, hence a total of Sh50.

RISE IN FUEL PRICES

This comes even as the Cereal Millers Association (CMA) warned that the increase in fuel prices would directly affect the price of wheat and maize flour due to high transportation costs.

“Taxes on fuel will affect millers directly despite the fact that the Ministry of Finance had exempted taxation on flour,” said Mr Mohamed Islam, the CMA chairperson.

Some of the millers have been forced to scale down operations to twice a week due to low demand for the sifted maize flour in the local market.

“We have no option but to reduce our operations and possibly consider restricting due to low demand for our products and increase in fuel price,” added Mr Kimutai.

Most millers in the region are reluctant to buy maize from farmers. Instead they opt for cheap maize imports from Uganda, which is selling at Sh1,200 per 90-kilogrammer sack. The imports have now saturated the local market.

LIBERALISED MARKET

“We are operating in a liberalised market economy and there is nothing wrong doing business under the East Africa Common Market protocol,” said Mr James Maina, one of the traders in Eldoret Town.

Maize farmers who delivered their produce to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) last season are demanding an outstanding payment of Sh3.5 billion.

The National Treasury has released Sh1.4 billion for farmers who will have to be vetted before they receive any payment.

Moiben MP Silas Tiren has faulted the government for failing to honour pledges to farmers over the release of the Sh3.5 billion despite numerous promises.

He blamed the government for entering into agreements that allowed maize imports without considering the plight of local farmers.

“The maize from Uganda, Tanzania and Mexico is not imported on debt. Why have our farmers not been paid on time?” asked the Jubilee legislator.


Sharon Otieno, the beautiful, generous spirit with personal secrets

By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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By RUTH MBULA
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Growing up, Ms Sharon Otieno was an ordinary village girl in Homa Bay. She attended local schools and was raised by parents who tended their small shamba and taught at local public schools. She was one of four children, two boys and two girls.

She was beautiful, a bright star in this humid village whose climate is governed by Lake Victoria.

Her friends remember her for her generosity. At one time, she bought a huge cake for a student on campus to celebrate her birthday during lean times.

At another, a woman who sold her bedding sometime back in Kisumu told the Nation Sharon left a tip of Sh500, a rare gesture in this part of the world.

On Wednesday, her distraught parents sobbed uncontrollably when the Nation team visited their home.

GRIEF AND SHOCK
Her father, Mr Douglas Otieno, who identified the body of his daughter, was besides himself with grief and shock.

“At the moment I don’t want to talk much. You have heard and seen what happened,” he told Nation at their home, wiping away a tear. Here was the sum of pain for a father who placed so much hope in a daughter and which had now come to naught.

The body had visible wounds on the back, neck and hands, showing she may have been stabbed, he said.

Ms Otieno’s body lay at Rachuonyo Level IV Hospital in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, where relatives and friends viewed it; each coming out wailing uncontrollably.

PRIVATE LIFE

Her mother, overwhelmed with emotion, had to cut short the interview after she said her daughter had confirmed a politician in Migori was involved in the pregnancy.

Ms Otieno kept her life private. Early this year she deferred her studies at Rongo, seeking time to prepare for her second child, speculated to be the cause of her brutal death. The university said Ms Otieno was on a long holiday but was expected to resume classes on Monday when a new semester started.

She guarded her private life carefully.

“She was jovial and liked looking at her smartphone, either on social media or texting friends,” said a fellow student. “But in the three years we have seen her, there were certain things you would not understand. She kept her distance, especially her private life.”

TRAVELLED ABROAD
Suspected of being the girlfriend of a local politician, friends said she travelled abroad several times, based on the images she posted on Facebook.

So when she contacted Nation reporter Barrack Oduor to expose the politician, a married man, for having an affair and trying to walk away from responsibility for the child she was carrying, it was the turning point for her.

She loved fashion and dressing for occasions, friends said. She loved high heels, long dresses and long earrings. On the day she was abducted, she had her hair in long braids, wore sandals and was seven months pregnant.

GREAT SHOCK
Rongo University Vice Chancellor Samuel Gudu called on police to get to the bottom of the matter, saying the incident had left the Rongo fraternity in great shock.
The university don spoke amid protests from students who took to the streets yesterday to protest the killing.

Prof Gudu pleaded with the students, staff, parents and stakeholders to remain calm as the matter was being handled by the government in close co-operation with the university.

“As Rongo university family, we strongly denounce this heinous, beastly, cruel and criminal act that abductors meted on our student,” said the VC.

He further said they learnt of Ms Otieno’s disappearance and subsequent murder with shock and disbelief. Ms Otieno joined the varsity in 2016 and had been a non-residential student, commuting from her home to the institution.


Scribe who broke Barack Oduor's kidnapping news fears for his life

By VIVERE NANDIEMO
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By RUSHDIE OUDIA
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A journalist based in Migori County has recorded a statement with police after he was threatened by unknown people for breaking the story of the abduction of Nation journalist, Barack Oduor, and murdered Rongo University student, Sharon Otieno.

Mr Basil Okoth, a reporter with Radio Lake Victoria, said he started receiving calls and text messages threatening him after he posted, on social media, news of the kidnapping incident. Unknown people allegedly told Mr Okoth to “go slow” on the incident.

“Following the abduction of a Nation journalist based in Homa Bay, Mr Barrack Oduor, I’m worried about my life since I was first to break the news at 10.22pm, Monday night after my sister, who is Mr Oduor’s wife, informed me of the incident,” said Mr Okoth.

FIRST TWEET

He continued : “Since posting the first tweet about the abduction, I have not been at peace. I shared the link to different social media platforms only for someone to shout my name, “Basil, go slow on this!” as I was about to board a vehicle for home Tuesday evening.”

On Wednesday, Mr Okoth reported his complaints to Migori police station (OB number 30/5/9/2018)

“A colleague called me this morning (Wednesday) warning me against receiving calls from unknown people and disclosing my whereabouts to anybody,” added Mr Okoth.

Mr Benedict Kigen, the Director of Criminal Investigations in Migori County, said the police will get to the bottom of the matter.

Meanwhile, leaders in Migori County have condemned Ms Otieno’s gruesome murder.

SERIOUS INJURIES

Ms Otieno was kidnapped alongside Mr Oduor, who narrowly escaped by jumping from the vehicle they had been abducted in and sustaining serious injuries in the process.

The leaders called for speedy investigation into the incident. Migori Woman Representative, Ms Pamela Odhiambo, said: “As a woman and a leader, I condemn this brutal act in the strongest terms possible. As a mother, I know how unbearable the pain is. Losing a second-year student from such a humble background is akin to extinguishing the hopes of an entire family.”

She added: “On behalf of Sharon’s family, and all women and girls in Migori, we demand for justice for Sharon. Those found culpable should face the law.”


Ensure prudent NHIF use

By EDITORIAL
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The government plans to review contributions by workers to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). This, it says, will ensure that the monthly deductions match the employees’ earnings.

Deputy President William Ruto says that a legislative process is underway in Parliament, seeking to effect the increment by amending the NHIF Act.

Among other things, the Bill seeks to double the Sh1,700 that the top tier of contributors make to the NHIF to fund the Universal Health Care.

The proposal comes barely three years after the NHIF raised workers’ contributions from a monthly flat rate of Sh320 to a graduated scale of between Sh500 and Sh1,700 based on each worker’s pay.

COLLECTED SH23.6 BILLION

Official figures show that in the six months to last December, the NHIF collected Sh23.6 billion from its seven million members. It then paid out Sh17.3 billion in claims, and spent Sh3.2 billion as operational expenses, leaving a half-year surplus of Sh3.1 billion.

Though the motive behind this planned increase is noble, as it will bring more Kenyans under the NHIF cover, the timing and manner in which the State, with the support of Parliament, is going about it, leaves a lot to be desired.

It follows a well-beaten path of simply passing on costs to workers, who are already shouldering a huge tax burden.

INCREASE CONTRIBUTIONS

What is worrying is that even as the government pushes to increase the contributions, it is doing little to assure Kenyans that the billions they channel to NHIF every year are being put to good use and that there is no wastage or pilferage.

The State must now evaluate the NHIF’s income and expenditure to establish that every shilling that the contributors so religiously give is used prudently and satisfactorily. Only then, should options such as increasing the monthly contributions once again be considered.


It’s a crazy world out there: The stories of ‘telephone farmers’

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Last week, we wrote about the things one can learn about how devolution money is changing local economies in Kenya, as gleaned from a recent visit upcountry.

However, the most interesting insights (in a comical way) was what it takes to be a “telephone farmer” — the men and women who live in the city but do some agriculture back home, keeping track of business through phone calls to their farm workers.

We heard the same stories we’ve encountered in other parts of Africa.

It’s not a business for the faint of heart. We were told of a Kenyan woman who was determined to make a success of raising chickens. She bought many birds and did all the right things.

BIRDS MISSING

However, every time she returned to the village after a few weeks to check on her chickens, a couple of dozen birds would be missing. She would be told that they had died. She suspected strongly that the workers were stealing her birds; so, she said they must keep the dead chickens. She bought a freezer, so that the dead chickens could be kept on ice. Smart move?

Well, the next time she went back upcountry to check on her chickens, for sure a few more had died. However, there were no bodies in the freezer.

Infuriated, she asked why the proof of the chickens’ death hadn’t been preserved. She was told it was because there had been a power outage for weeks! You can’t win.

A farmer we visited now stays on site most of the time and he has found some joy. He keeps himself motivated with a rich sense of humour.

HEALTHY DUCKS

We inquired from him about what looked like very healthy ducks. The farmer joked that the ducks were “gay”. We were puzzled.

He explained that the local thieves and wild animals, at least according to what the farm workers used to tell him, stole or ate only the female ducks, leaving him with the male ones.

One senses that there is a kind of class struggle between the upcountry folks who are employed on farms and the richer telephone farmers in the city.

Rural farm workers, to justify the mysterious disappearance of harvest, chickens, goats and cattle, have developed a whole body of stories and excuses.

MORE CREATIVE

In addition to the previous two, these seven were among the most creative we encountered:

Many city folks, upon returning to the countryside, have apparently been told that the breed of chicken they bought was barren, and so didn’t lay eggs.

But also, workers have been known to claim that there are chickens that are not “motherly”. After laying eggs, they do not sit on them through to the hatching, so the eggs get spoilt.

The weather has also been used to explain away the low fertility of chicken. Farm owners have been told that their chicken weren’t laying eggs because it was too cold.

Farmers who raise turkeys hear even stranger stories.

Apparently, some have been told that, during mating, the male turkey overwhelmed the new young female to death.

CHEATING WORKERS

Turkeys also have a strange way of bringing out the considerate side of farm workers.

The farmer will visit and be told that some turkeys died. However, there would be exactly the same number as he left three weeks back.

Yes, she would be told, they replaced the dead turkey at their own expense as they knew she would hit the roof if she had been informed of the loss.

The only problem is that the cost of the turkey would be equivalent to the worker’s monthly salary. The virus is a great ally of cheating workers.

The owner leaves the farm with every indication that a bumper harvest is on the cards. He returns a few weeks later but the store is half-empty and the maize crop has been stripped.

The maize harvest was not as good due to a recent sudden infection by a virus, he will be told.

LOVESICK COWS

 And then there is the rain. A promising harvest of beans vanishes. The distraught telephone farmer, inquiring about what happened, is told that the rains were unusually heavy, so the beans were lost to excessive flooding.

Meanwhile, the home rainwater tanks are not full. This is my favourite. A city farmer was puzzled why his big healthy dairy cows were producing very little milk. He was told they were lovesick.

Apparently, the cows missed him so much when he was away from the farm that they were always sad, and thus produced little milk! Who would have guessed?

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africapedia.com and explainer Roguechiefs.com. Twitter: @cobbo3


 Cotu rejects plan to increase NHIF rates

By OUMA WANZALA
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The Central Organisation of Trade Union, (Cotu) has rejected a proposal by Deputy President William Ruto that top income earners pay more in monthly contributions to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli said it is the duty of the government under the Bill of Rights to offer and guarantee its citizens the highest attainable standard of health, warning that 2.4 million Kenyans in formal employment will not carry the burden of ensuring that 43 million Kenyans have access to better healthcare.

According to Mr Ruto, higher fees will allow the NHIF to boost its services to the poor without hurting the fund’s finances.

 “In Africa the Kenyan worker remains one of the most taxed and painfully so. There has been no prudent management of these taxes from workers by either the government or the various state corporations, yet the toiling poor worker has religiously and with zeal continued to honour his or her legal obligation by allowing their payslip to be heavily taxed,” said Mr Atwoli in a statement.

STATUTORY REQUIREMENT

Contribution to the NHIF is a statutory requirement.

“Cotu represents a total membership of 2.5 million workers who all form the bulk of contributors to the NHIF and until early 2015, these contributions were Sh300 per worker per month with those in the informal economy contributing Sh150 a month before Cotu and NHIF management agreed in September 2014 to withdraw a court case that had stopped this hike in contributions and allow for a review to push the contributions to up to Sh1,700 for those earning above Sh100,000 and Sh500 for the informal economy workers,” added Mr Atwoli.

RECKLESS STATEMENT

He said that hardly three years since a review of the contributions was made, some individuals, unaware of what a common Kenyan worker is undergoing in terms of the harsh economic situation, is calling for yet another review of the contributions upwards.

 “What a reckless, irresponsible statement that is outrightly insensitive to the suffering worker now bearing the tag of the “working poor”?,” posed Mr Atwoli.

He said the union is yet to be convinced that the workers are getting equal return from NHIF.


 New plan to transform semi-arid, arid counties into bread baskets

By CHARLES LWANGA
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The government has embarked on transforming arid and semi-arid lands (Asal) into the country’s bread basket, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa has said.

Mr Wamalwa said the Sh7 billion Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Scheme in Kilifi and Tana River counties had given hope to other counties that they too can become the bread basket of the nation.

Speaking at Ocean beach resort in Malindi during the Asal conference, he said 10,000 acres out of the one million acres which are under irrigation has enabled Kilifi and Tana River become food sufficient during drought.

“We aim at ensuring there is food security by practicing merchandised irrigation farming in the Asal counties to eradicate hunger and achieve the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030 goal,” he said.

RICH IN MINERALS

Mr Wamalwa, who was accompanied by Kilifi deputy governor Gideon Samburi, said the Asal counties, such as such as Kilifi, Marsabit and Lamu, are rich in minerals, fertile soils, pastoralism and culture which promote tourism.

 “We have invited international and local investors to appreciate and learn more about these counties,” the CS said, adding that the inauguration will bring together all the 29 county governments for the conference and exhibitions.

On his part, Mr Samburi called upon the delegates to explore the county during that period to promote domestic tourism.

“Kilifi is one of the magical tourism destinations in the country and the activity will make residents realise tourism is back,” he said.

DRY CONDITIONS

Some of the Asal counties to be represented are Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu, Taita-Taveta, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Kitui, Machakos, Makueni, Turkana, West Pokot and Samburu.

Others are Elgeyo-Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia, Narok, Kajiado, Nyeri (Kieni), Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Meru, Migori, Homa Bay, Nakuru and Kiambu.

The conference comes as the Asal counties grapple with dry conditions, coming hot on the heels of floods which wreaked havoc and left 186 people dead while displacing about 300,000 others across the country.


Study reveals why it is easier to do business in Nakuru

By KENNEDY KIMANTHI
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It is easier to start a business in Nakuru town compared with five other populous urban areas in Kenya because of a reduced tax burden, reveals a survey by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The analysis measured performance indices in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Eldoret, Machakos and Mombasa counties. It also considered areas relevant to the life of a small medium enterprise, which include structure of taxes, fees, good governance and conditions for investment.

The IEA assessment shows that Nakuru had an overall score of 89 in the tax sub-cluster followed by Eldoret (78) and Machakos (67).

The bottom three in this category were Kisumu (64), and Nairobi and Mombasa (56).

BURDEN OF TAX

The study says urban centres that reduce the burden of tax and provide an enabling environment are likely to have more investments.

Its main objective was to assess the performance of urban areas in service delivery, provision of enabling conditions for investment, and governance.

“The result implies that Nakuru has the most friendly tax regime among the urban centres singled out in our report. The county provides sufficient information on local taxes and other levies, like most of the other urban areas.

“The levies for parking (Sh100 for salon cars), and Sh4,000 charged for an annual single business permit for general merchant, according to Finance Act 2015, are the lowest,” said Mr John Mutua, a programme officer at IEA.

Mombasa leads in the investment and trade sub-cluster, which assesses the environment as a critical foundation for enterprise growth and employment creation, with a score of 43. This is because it takes the shortest time, 41 days, to register property. This is credited to automation of services.

INVESTMENT CLUSTER

Cumulatively, Mombasa led the pack in the conditions for investment cluster with a score of 46, followed by Eldoret. The rest were Nairobi and Nakuru (42), Kisumu (31) and Machakos (29).

The study recommends harmonisation of county tax regimes to improve the overall performance, especially in regard to providing an enabling environment for business and potential investors.

Scores in this Urban Areas Performance Index were based on 67 questions (indicators) that were administered to respondents who were county government officials.

Primary data from these officials and secondary data based on the year 2015 was collected from November 2016 to May 2017 from the six largest urban areas in Kenya covered in this research.

WATER AVAILABILITY

Water reliability also saw Nakuru top. The county has water availability 17 hours a day. In Kisumu, Machakos, and Mombasa, water supply was below 70 per cent.

“Generally, all the six urban areas have plans and strategies for improvement of waste collection and management. How they have executed and implemented these plans differs. Nakuru is the best performer on solid waste management,” the Urban Areas Performance Index report says.

On transport, the best performance was unexpectedly registered by Machakos, with a score of 50. The two largest cities tied at a disappointing score of 42.

“Nairobi does not use any economic instruments such as congestion fees for traffic management, although its comparatively high parking fees for private cars is not only for purposes of revenue generation but also as a deterrent of private cars in the central business district,” says the IEA document.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT

Nairobi leads in the safety and disaster management sub-cluster, with an exceptional score of 88. Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret follow in that order, but at some varying distance. The least performance was posted by Nakuru and Machakos, with average scores of 51 and 50, respectively.

Eldoret leads its peers with a perfect overall score of 100 on Early Childhood Development Education and Youth Polytechnics. “Not only does Eldoret have a plan on ECDE and polytechnics covered in its education policy but it also has the lowest pupil to ECDE centre ratio among the six urban areas,: says the report.


Conclude vetting of procurement officers

By EDITORIAL
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It is now three months since the government suspended procurement and accounting officers and ordered their vetting to determine their suitability for the jobs.

This was part of the crackdown on corruption that has come to define the current administration. Underpinning this was the fact that major scandals revolve around contracts, usually inflated or shoddily executed but approved nonetheless after officials pocket kickbacks, with procurement and accounting officers sitting right at the centre.

In recent years, procurement offices have become quite lucrative. It has nearly become a standard practice that no major deal sails through without bribing procurement and accounting officers, hence the decision to vet them to establish if they could pass muster.

PROFESSIONALLY CONDUCTED

Arguably, the decision was based on legitimate concerns. However, there was a timeline — 30 days — which has since passed. Evidence indicates the exercise has not been completed. Questions have since emerged about its handling, the time it takes and the rigour of execution.

It is not clear if it has been professionally conducted, meaning there are doubts whether it will yield the desired outcome.

But the most vexing point is that it has taken inordinately long and has far-reaching ramifications.

First, many ministries and parastatals have been rendered dysfunctional as they cannot procure operational items.

EXECUTE TRANSACTIONS

There is no one to source for goods or services or process and execute the transactions. Moreover, the suspension has inflicted fear in everyone with those still in office scared to make decisions. That is not good for public service delivery.

Secondly, it is extremely unfair to keep a person out of a job for months on mere suspicion that they could be criminals — just by sheer account of their jobs.

If there was evidence about culpability, that should have come out by now. In the absence of that, what we see is mere shadowboxing.

Thirdly, as we have argued before, sending away the procurement and accounting officers is no cure to grandiose corruption and theft in public offices.

MEGA SCANDALS

It is recalled that the Narc administration did exactly that in 2003 but that did not end the vice.

This is because the mega scandals are perpetrated by the high and mighty with the procurement and accounting officers being mere facilitators.

Our argument is that fighting corruption has to be holistic and systemic. Weak structures and loopholes that allow looting must be fixed; without which all these others are mere sideshows.

It is imperative that the government concludes the vetting and make a determination on those who should continue or leave the service as soon as possible. Keeping all the officers in the dark for three months, for no good reason, is callous.


Helb to release cash for first year varsity students in two weeks

By OUMA WANZALA
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First Year university students will start receiving their education loans mid this month with about 4,451 expected to miss out.

This will be a major shift from the past where they got the loans as late as November.

Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) said it has budgeted for 64,700 first years who started reporting to their respective institutions this week. A total of 69,151 students qualified to join universities, both public and private.

 Helb chief executive Charles Ringera said the lowest beneficiary of the loan will get Sh42,000 while vulnerable orphans will get up to Sh60,000 and a bursary of Sh8,000.

FORMS RECEIVED

“As at closure of the application period last month, we had 89,900 online application forms with 63,000 having been printed. The physical forms received so far are 32,000 and we continue to receive huge numbers daily. For those whose forms have already been received, verified and passed — funding starts on September 15,” said Mr Ringera.

He went on: “This is therefore to call on the ones who have not submitted forms to Helb to do so in earnest in our various Huduma centres spread across the country.”

Mr Ringera explained that Afya Elimu Fund (nurses) payment for continuing students will also commence on September 15 while for the first time applicants it is ongoing. Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) applications are also going on and will close on October 31.

SMART CARDS

“We are living within the budget as instructed by the National Treasury. Fresh students’ budget will be Sh2.8 billion while continuing students, 164,000, will take Sh6.9 billion,” said the CEO.

Post graduate students who are 4,000 in number, he said, will take Sh400 million.

“Of the 164,000 continuing students, who have opened for first semester, we have already paid 90,000 totalling Sh1.9 billion. We are paying as they open,” he said.

Helb, Mr Ringera noted, will use Sh10.1 billion to fund students this financial year.

This year all students will be required to have a smart card in order to access the funds.

EFFICIENT MANAGEMENT

“The cards will ensure effective and efficient management of funds that have been invested in the education sector by the government,” said the Helb boss.

I also remind universities that as earlier directed, this smart card solution must be in place in September this year,” said Education CS Amina Mohamed.

Universities had been directed to ensure that all students have the cards by September.

Mr Ringera said the cards will allow timely disbursement of loans and eliminate errors experienced in the past, such as wrong bank details.