Without external interference, new CEO can bring back Kemsa's lost glory

The trouble with Kemsa is certainly interference from top government officials. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

There is a hue and cry over poor governance and corruption at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa). But this has not always been the case.

Six years ago, Kemsa was the best performing government business. It scooped the coveted Best Enterprise of the Year Award, a prestigious recognition from the European Business Assembly. The then Kemsa Chief Executive Officer John Munyu was also feted with the Best Manager Award.

Kemsa overcame stiff competition from companies from over 30 countries drawn from various fields. The World Bank, one of the main financiers of Kemsa, was full of praise for the organisation because of its corporate efficiency.

 At the time, I was a deputy governor and observed first-hand how Kemsa delivered medical supplies to public hospitals with the efficiency of a first world supply chain.

Unfortunately, upon the departure of Dr Munyu, all hell broke loose. The institution became the centre of attention over allegations of corruption. There was talk of the so-called Kemsa billionaires; people who dipped their fingers into the cookie jar. From being the best, Kemsa became the worst firm.

Stranger than fiction, some suppliers claimed to have been issued with letters requesting them to supply Covid-19 protection gears to Kemsa without following any of the public procurement regulations.

Some people claimed to have been awarded tenders after they were asked while passing outside Kemsa offices whether they interested in doing business with the agency.

The trouble with Kemsa is certainly interference from top government officials. During the Senate inquiry, the immediate former CEO showed emails from allegedly from officials demanding that tenders be awarded to individuals who are close relatives of top government officials. In the process, a lot of money was stolen which otherwise would have helped millions of people during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is, however a glimmer of hope. The current acting Kemsa chief executive John Kabuchi was the head of the Supply Chain at Kemsa when Dr Munyu was at the helm of the organisation. By picking Kabuchi; a professional who has proven his worth, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has good intentions. If no further political interference does not come his way, Kabuchi might once again bring Kemsa where it was a few years back.

To fight corruption, I think we need a new kind of governance system where the government has no significant role in the appointment of CEOs of government institutions. Recruitment of accounting officers, if done without interference from the executive, would have make it possible to recruit people based on merit rather than ethnicity.

Unfortunately under the current government, it has become the order of the day for people from a few ethnic groups to dominate public service. A report by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission revealed that public service is dominated by a few ethnic groups, indicating lack of transparency in the appointment process.

The decision by Mutahi Kagwe to appoint Kabuchi as the CEO of Kemsa on a transitional basis is positive. I believe he can deliver.

Mr Guleid is CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]