A hospital in Mai Mahiu, which was established at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, consuming Sh150 million, is still under construction.
The project site was handed over to the contractor on January 28, 2021.
During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 47 counties received financial aid amounting to billions of shillings to safeguard their population from the virus.
Under the leadership of Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui, the county government of Nakuru allocated Sh201 million in its 2020/21 budget to cover Covid-19-related expenses.
According to a report from the Controller of Budget, out of the Sh201 million, the county used Sh174.68 million within the year.
The allocation of these funds sparked a heated debate, with some individuals accusing Kinyanjui's administration of neglecting crucial priorities, particularly in safeguarding the constituents' interests and ensuring the well-being of front-line health workers.
The report by the Controller of Budget further highlights that a significant portion of the funds was directed towards the construction of an inpatient and outpatient hospital in Maai Mahiu, Naivasha subcounty.
The project absorbed Sh130 million, accounting for 74.5 per cent of the total expenditure. Additionally, Sh6 million was allocated for domestic travel, while Sh30 million was designated for dressings and non-pharmaceutical items.
An expenditure of Sh4.9 million was allocated to food rations, while Sh3.5 million was designated for bedding and linen.
This period coincided with the time when the county was one of the devolved units experiencing the highest number of Covid-19 infections. It was even subjected to a partial lockdown at one point.
In this context, Kinyanjui's decision drew criticism for seemingly missing the mark. The fact that he allocated the majority of the Covid-19 funds to the Maai Mahiu Hospital, which wouldn't provide immediate relief to the residents against the pandemic, was a point of contention.
As a result of this allocation, Kinyanjui, who is now a former governor, encountered public criticism, particularly from his political competitors during the last general election.
In a governor debate held in July 2022, in anticipation of last year's general election, Kinyanjui said the facility had been constructed at a cost of Sh150 million and was already fully built. "Some individuals are referring to the facilities as skyscrapers, but the essence is that we have a hospital in Maai Mahiu that is nearly finished, awaiting equipping and staffing," he said.
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During the debate, Kinyanjui faced his opponents, including Stanley Karanja, who accused him of not correctly prioritising the needs of the county.
"In Maai Mahiu, that money was intended for immediate needs such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). Why was it redirected, and what were the government procedures involved?" questioned Karanja.
Former Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, who is now the governor, also chimed in, accusing Kinyanjui of disregarding the safety of healthcare workers during such a critical period.
"This demonstrates how little concern he (Kinyanjui) has for the well-being of healthcare workers. When these workers were succumbing to Covid-19, they lacked adequate PPEs while attending to patients. PPEs should have been available to safeguard them first," Kihika said.
In response, Kinyanjui acknowledged the diversion of funds but said he had no regrets concerning the project.
“It is true we used money meant for PPEs to construct the Maai Mahiu Hospital. But I want to remind you that if we bought PPEs, we would have nothing to show today. Nakuru is the only county that did a project that will be seen for the next 20 years,” Kinyanjui said.
“Prudence is sometimes doing something that will change the lives of people for decades. And so instead of PPEs, we have put up a building that will house more than 150 patients."
Njuguna Mwaura who chairs the Health Committee at the County Assembly of Nakuru says the project needs further funding.
"The construction itself is approximately 90 per cent complete. Minor issues and the need for equipping are currently hindering its finalisation. The exact operational date remains uncertain," he said.
However, he pointed out that an additional budget was in the works to conclude the facility, along with others initiated by the previous administration.
"Once this is finalised, the project could be completed within a few months. Nonetheless, securing additional funds for equipping and staff recruitment will be necessary to make it functional," Mwaura said.
Although he acknowledged that diverting Covid-19 funds to the project received criticism from certain residents and leaders, he believes the decision was prudent.
"While some people may not yet recognise the value of the investment, they will eventually. Political factors may have cast a negative light on the project, but utilizing the funds for development rather than recurring expenses was a strategic move. Additionally, it's important to note that the county had other funds allocated for PPEs," Mwaura said.