Senate told Budget boss in a spot over illegal approval of funds

Steven Masha Acting Controller of Budget when he appeared before the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on the Medical Leasing Equipment at County Hall, Nairobi on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The Acting Controller of Budget (CoB) was on Tuesday pressed by MPs to explain why his office ‘irregularly’ authorised the payment of Sh25.9 billion for a medical equipment leasing programme.

A Senate ad hoc committee grilled Stephen Masha on how his office approved the payments for the Sh63 billion Medical Equipment Services (MES) programme without any proof of agreements between the national and county governments.

The committee that is led by Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo is investigating cost variations and other irregularities in the deal that saw counties charged millions of shillings to equip hospitals with leased equipment.

Mr Masha was asked why the annual cost for each county shot up from Sh95 million in the 2015-2016 financial year to Sh200 million in the 2019-2019 fiscal year.

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He, however, said he was not privy to the contents of the agreements signed between the national and county governments thus drawing the ire of senators.

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula told Masha that he was not fit to hold office if he failed to follow the law and stop the ‘illegal’ withdrawal of billions of shillings.

“This is the height of irresponsibility for a public officer. You kept on authorising the withdrawal of funds from the Treasury for the MES yet you have never seen the agreement between the two levels of government as envisaged in the Constitution,” said Mr Wetang’ula.

ICU equipment

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The controversial MES programme is a national government project where international companies were contracted to equip selected hospitals in the 47 counties with ICU, theatre and radiology equipment, among other medical items.

Governors have always claimed that they were bullied by the Ministry of Health into signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to accept the leased equipment.

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The county bosses say their efforts over the last five years to access the contractual agreements signed between the Health ministry and the suppliers of the equipment have proved futile.

The senators pressed Masha on why his office ignored the provisions of Article 187 of the Constitution on agreements signed between the two levels of government. The law states that a function or power of government at one level may be transferred to a government at the other level by agreement between the governments.

According to the senators, the MES programme was done without an agreement which meant the CoB had failed in its oversight duties.

“You have confirmed that you released the money without seeing the agreement. It seems you only look at the availability of funds for approval, but you don’t care where and how the money will be spent,” Ms Dullo said.

But Masha defended himself saying that the accounting officer in the Ministry of Health would be better placed to account for the funds that had been approved by his office.

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He said authorisation to withdraw funds to pay for the MES project was guided by MoUs between the national government and each county government as well as the National Government Appropriation Act and the County Allocation of Revenue Act (Cara).

“MoUs between the national government and the individual 47 county governments were signed. Cara provides that the conditional grant for leasing of medical equipment is included in the budget estimates of the national government subject to intergovernmental agreement between the national and county governments,” Masha said.

The acting COB explained that from an analysis of the expenditure and budget reports from the Ministry of Health, the ministry had budgeted for Sh34.7 billion but had paid Sh25.9 billion up to the 2018-2019 financial year.

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Controller of BudgetMPsMESStephen Masha