Kemsa boss now defends Sh7b procurement spree

Suspended Kemsa CEO Jonah Manjari. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) chief executive Jonah Manjari now says that he does not know how ‘tenderprenuers’ got information that they were procuring Covid-19 essentials.

Nonetheless, Manjari admitted before the National Assembly’s Public Investment Committee (PIC) that they went ahead to give Letters of Offers to companies that came calling even before ascertaining their technical and financial capabilities to deliver the items.

Handling of the procurement has now left Kemsa holding onto Sh6 billion worth of stock and still staring at debts worth over Sh3 billion. Responding to claims by the acting management that some companies were simply being called to go for tenders for the Covid-19 essentials, the CEO said he did not call anyone to offer them business.

Offloading of essentials

“It is good if they admitted that they called the companies, I did not call anyone. I do not know how they knew that we were doing procurement for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but they would come and ask for tenders,” he told the committee.

The suspended boss said the offloading of the essentials to the market was jolted after President Uhuru Kenyatta on April 27 directed counties to spend Sh5 billion meant for Universal Health Care (UHC) to procure masks and other essentials from small manufacturers.

He explained that the directive meant that counties, that were their top priority markets for the equipment, sought other avenues, a move that has led to 97 per cent of the stock procured by Kemsa remaining in their warehouses.

Manjari said apart from the president’s directive, there was also the challenge of donations that kept coming into the country and which ate into their market.

However, the embattled CEO who is facing investigations from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission over the procurement, could not convince the committee as to why they continued giving Letters of Offers for companies to procure the equipment even after realising that what was in stores were not moving.

He was taken to task to explain why, after they had procured essentials worth Sh4 billion, he ignored a directive from the chair of the Kemsa Board, Kembi Gitura, to cancel all the tender offers not honoured by then.

The committee noted that instead, Kemsa continued accepting the PPE and taking them into their warehouses despite the fact that the stock was not moving.

“When the Board chair realised that you were already at Sh4 billion and the goods were not moving, he asked you to cancel all the commitment letters that had not been honoured by then, but you still went ahead to give even more letters, it is a clear indication that you intended to continue stock-piling,” said committee chair Abdullswamad Nassir (Mvita).

But Manjari defended the action saying they realised that many suppliers were in different stages of doing their deliveries, and thus could not be stopped.

“Those who had not delivered by then came to us with airway bills as testimony that the supplies were airborne. Many by then were in different stages of delivery and so we could not cancel. We just had to extend their delivery timelines,” he said.

However, MPs said there was evidence that as late as September when the matter was under probe, some companies were still delivering.

When she appeared before the committee on Tuesday, Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache, accused Manjari and the management of ordering for items worth Sh4 billion within a period of three weeks against a budget of Sh758 million that had been approved by the ministry.

She revealed that the now-suspended officials proceeded to commit an additional Sh3 billion by June, bringing the total cost of supplies to Sh7 billion without the knowledge of the parent ministry.

Mochache said the Sh758 million approved by the ministry was meant for the purchase of 25,000 PPE, 10 000 N95 masks, 6000 laboratory sample collection and transportation consumable kits, 6000 laboratory test kits as well as laboratory supplies and reagents.

Not aware

But Kemsa ordered for masks worth Sh139 million, PPE worth Sh152 million, sterile surgical gloves worth Sh59 million, laboratory items at a cost of 1.7 billion and other supplies worth Sh113 million. She said they further went on a procuring spree of more essentials, many of which are now in their stores.

“I did not know about this matter at Kemsa was of this magnitude. I made every effort to get what was happening at Kemsa but I did not get.

“I asked the suspended CEO Jonah Manjari about what was happening at the agency and he told me nothing,” the PS said.

She added: “Indeed it is true that these procurements happened within a very short time, when at this time we were all busy dealing with a pandemic and holding meetings and we expected that someone would follow the law when dealing with such matters.”

The PS told the committee that she was not aware of the reason behind the purchasing spree by the agency.

“It is true that we have learnt so much after this incident happened, however, it is sad that when we have an individual at the helm of an organisation who is supposed to follow the law and he decides to use the same law in such an imaginable way,” she said.