19 months on, no KEMSA official has been prosecuted

Kemsa Acting Director John Kabuchi (right) with two officials display a consignment of medical supplies being dispatched to the counties at the authority’s National Supply Chain Centre in Embakasi, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Nineteen months since the suspension of top officials at the trouble-ridden Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), no one has been prosecuted over the myriad scandals.

Though President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered government agencies to take action against perpetrators involved in misappropriating Sh7.8 billion Covid-19 funds, focus has instead shifted to sacking employees under ‘human resource reforms’.

The situation has aggravated the delivery of medical commodities at a time when the health sector is grappling with the challenges of rolling out Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Of the many reforms proposed by audit reports, the Kemsa board led by Mary Mwadime — who took over office in April last year — has only initiated restructuring of the human resource, a move that has seen more than 900 workers sent packing. Among the affected employees are cleaners, clerks and drivers.

“We never had anything to do with Covid-19, nor did we receive any benefits. But there were politicians who swarmed the place and bagged multi-million-shilling tenders. Why are their jobs intact?” asked a worker who was sent on compulsory leave.

“We are not opposed to the reforms; in fact our dependents rely on public health facilities and therefore we want them to work. But why are staff being condemned as a ploy to hoodwink Kenyans that the house is now clean? The danger is still lurking with powerful individuals still following up on tenders and payments.”

As the board insists on human resources reforms, the approved organisational structure has not been released to the public, and the process has remained shrouded in secrecy.

The structure was drafted by officials of the Ministry of Health and some board members during a 30-day retreat in Naivasha without involvement of the management team, thus raising further questions.

Sources say that during retreats to draft it, participants enjoyed hefty allowances of up to Sh18,000 per person per day in addition to sitting allowances of a similar amount.

Even as the “reforms” continue, the suspended officials are still free, with the agency being managed by acting officials. Both groups are enjoying salaries paid for by the public.

In the meantime, payments to tenderpreneurs, some of which had been frozen by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), are being processed.

By the time a red flag on the Covid-19 millionaires was raised, some companies did not have contracts or Local Purchase Orders (LPOs), both of which are necessary when doing business with the Government.

EACC, which had been investigating the matter, handed it over to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).

Interestingly, according to the Chief of Staff at ODPP, Lilian Obuo, the office is still waiting for a comprehensive investigation report from EACC.

“We cannot prosecute if the matter is yet to be investigated. EACC is the one conducting investigations,” she told The Standard. 

“Investigation is not the DPP’s mandate but EACC’s; they are the ones who should respond to this.”

Efforts by The Standard to get a comment from EACC Chief Executive Officer Twalib Abdallah were futile as he neither picked calls nor responded to messages. However, a communication officer, Philip Kagucia, said the Kemsa matter was still under investigation.

Kemsa got in the spotlight in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic after it emerged that officials were using illegalities to award tenders, sometimes to unqualified private companies and individuals.

A report by the Public Investments Committee (PIC), released in September 2021, shows that procurement of medical supplies was done without the approval of budgets.

In the report, it was noted that Kemsa incurred a total of Sh8,388,872,706 to procure Covid-19 related items.

Further, commitment letters issued under Kemsa capital amounted to Sh7,699,260,500, against a budget of Sh4,655,709,000.

“This exceeded the approved budget by Sh3,060,950,000,” notes the PIC report.

According to the report, the suspended CEO, Jonah Manjari, told the committee led by Mvita MP Abdullswamad Sharrif Nassir that Kemsa failed to conduct surveys to establish the market rates for medical supplies and that it engaged companies that had not been prequalified to supply Covid-19 Health Products and Technology (HPTs).

Among the individuals, awarded tenders was a James Njuguna, who told the parliamentary committee that his walk outside Kemsa premises won him a tender to supply PPEs worth Sh180 million.

In the recommendations, a multi-agency team comprising officials from the office of the Auditor General, Office of the Attorney General, Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, Treasury and Ministry of Health was to look into the procurement of KN95 face masks and surgical marks.

EACC was also expected to investigate the Kemsa board about the role it played during the procurement of Covid-19 items at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Also, Manjari was to be investigated with a view of preferring charges against him for signing commitment letters, an instrument not recognised in law and ignoring advice from Kemsa directors. 

The anti-graft agency was also expected to investigate Ferdinand Wanyonyi, the head of the legal department at Kemsa.

The commission was also expected to investigate allegations about the exaggeration of prices in the Local Purchase Order.

Besides Manjari, other suspended employees at the authority included Eliud Muriithi (director, commercial services and Charles Juma (procurement director).

The officers were suspended to pave way for investigations after they were adversely mentioned in the irregular payments relating to the purchase and supply of Covid-19 emergency equipment.

On November 4, 2021, redundancy letters were issued to more than 900 employees. It is about 105 days since they were sent packing while top managers and directors were sent on 45 days of compulsory leave.

In a statement to media houses, the board chairperson said that the move was part of the reforms being undertaken in line with regulatory protocols.

Mwadime added that Kemsa has been undertaking a transformation programme to fine-tune the organisation to meet market demands, a process that kicked off last year.

Kemsa was established through an Act of Parliament. The authority has an annual budget of about Sh30 billion.

Another investigation by the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority 2020, noted exaggeration of the prices of Covid-19 items and asked for further investigations on the issuance of tenders.

Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina told The Standard in an interview that the restructuring at Kemsa was aimed at improving service delivery.

But he added that the process should be done within the law.

“It is important to give credit that there are a lot of restrictions at the entity to put things in the right direction,” he said.

According to ole Kina, there is a delay in the prosecution of suspended officials, as there is a need to analyse and synchronise all reports.

The former Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya CEO, Dr Daniella Munene, attributed wrangling at the authority to a lack of technical audits and political interference.

“I am hoping that the reforms will transform the organisation for the benefits of Kenyans; that they’ll now access good quality products at affordable prices,” she said.

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