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Medical research in limbo as US threatens cuts over Sh300m lost at Kemri

By Dalton Nyabundi and Eric Abuga | Apr 25th 2018 | 2 min read

The US government has threatened further budget cuts to Kenya’s largest medical research agency over what it terms lack of financial accountability.

On Monday, US Ambassador Robert Godec told The Standard several Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) programmes had failed to account for up to Sh300 million advanced to them for research.

Mr Godec, however, did not reveal the amount of money the US government intends to slash from Kemri.

Zero tolerance

“We have zero tolerance for mismanagement of the financial support we give to various agencies. If things do not change, there will be bigger consequences; we will cut back on funding to more programmes until what we have given is accounted for,” he said.

In 2015, the US government froze direct funding to Kemri and put it under investigation after a budget of more than Sh7.2 billion was depleted prematurely, threatening key research projects and putting more than 1,000 employees at risk of losing their jobs.

Godec said the US wants the misappropriated funds returned before considerations can be made on whether to continue direct support to the agency or fund various programmes individually.

The US Centre for Disease Control, which supports Kemri’s projects, he said, “will continue to support very specific projects.”

Should the US government make good on its threat to cut funding, one of the projects that will be affected is the multi-billion-shilling health research project in Kisumu County.

Critical review of the fiscal management by the Auditor General and Atlanta-based firm in 2015 unearthed actions which could have led to loss or misappropriation of up to Sh7.2 billion.

In February 2016, Kemri’s board of management suspended chief executive Solomon Mpoke, finance and administration manager Linah Boit and human resources assistant director Anne Wang’ombe over allegations of setting up a parallel non-governmental organisation, which competed with the institute for donor funds.

Kemri and CDC have worked together on ground-breaking research that proved vital in policies on control of communicable diseases in the country and across the world for the last 36 years.

40 programmes

In a previous interview, CDC Country Director Kevin De Cock said they valued the collaboration with Kemri but financial management was a cause for concern.

The America-based research organistion funds more than 40 programmes, including research on malaria, HIV and tuberculosis in Kisumu.

The ambassador further said the budget cut would remain in effect until solid measures were in put in place to curb corruption.

“Our stand on corruption is very clear. That is why we have not restored 100 per cent of the support of the health assistance, especially technical support that goes directly to the Ministry of Health,” he said.

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