Senators yesterday sent away Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki for being ill-prepared to shed more light on the medical equipment leasing saga.
Some lawmakers walked out of the chamber, saying they would only grant Ms Kariuki and her team audience when she produces contracts signed between the counties, national government and suppliers.
“How can you prosecute a case in court without documents?” Machakos Senator Boniface Kabaka asked.
Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Jnr backed Mr Kabaka and said: “This is a waste of our time."
"The chair should make an order to direct the ministry to provide the documents per county and the original contracts,” the Makueni senator added.
Session chair and Majority Leader Senator Kipchumba Murkomen (Elegeyo Marakwet) had a hard time containing the angry lawmakers, who at one point opted to walk out of the chamber after their calls to turn away the minister and her team were ignored.
Senators accused the Government of concealing contracts for the supply of medical equipment to county hospitals.
They were infuriated by the fact that the Government committed Sh38 billion to purchase equipment including trolleys and stretches in a suspect deal that will eventually cost the taxpayer Sh63 billion in seven years. The equipment has not been delivered in some places, they said.
They wondered how the annual repayment by counties was revised from Sh3.8 billion to Sh9.4 billion, and demanded the immediate suspension of the deal, which they said had all hallmarks of a mega scandal.
It also emerged that the equipment was gathering dust in some facilities like in Baragoi, Kabarnet and Kachiliba hospitals in Samburu, Baringo and West Pokot counties due to lack of electricity, water and skilled personnel.
Surprisingly, Bomet County, where former Governor Isaac Ruto declined to sign the contract, has been paying for the equipment.
Kariuki and her team were hard pressed to explain how the cost of additional 21 hospitals from the initial 98 had been shared among the 47 counties.
Some senators accused the ministry officials of taking them for granted and insisted on only engaging the CS if she produced the said contracts.
Kilonzo Jnr said the variation stands at Sh5.3 billion.
“We started at Sh3.8 billion, went to Sh4.5 billion. In the last budget it was Sh6.1 billion. Now counties are paying Sh9.4 billion annually. It is very telling,” he said.
Kariuki explained that the variation was caused by changes in the dollar exchange rate. On the 21 additional hospitals she asked for more time to table relevant documents.
“Most of the equipment supplied are in use. It is at the range of 97 per cent,” said Karuiki.
Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman backed her up saying the variation was caused by the dollar exchange rate and delivery of equipment in the counties.
Kilonzo Jnr warned the ministry officials not to make statements they can’t substantiate.
“This allows the suppliers to arbitrarily increase costs," he said.
Many senators questioned the rationale of each county paying a standard Sh200 million for the equipment.
Senators Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi) and Enock Wambua (Kitui) wondered why the Government leased everything including trolleys and stretches.
“It is extremely irreconcilable that we can lease patients’ trolleys. There is a major element of loophole,” said Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri.
His Kericho counterpart Aaron Cheruiyot added: “If the contracts are in dispute, let’s stop the disbursement now. The project was meant to benefit Kenyans, it seems it’s not.”
Vihiga Senator George Khaniri sought to know if due diligence was done.
Chief Finance Officer Peter Odundo argued that the amount in question was from the national government vote and not counties.
His attempts to justify his argument in reference to the County Allocation of Revenue Act (CARA) prompted a response from Kisumu Senator Fred Outa who told Mr Odundo to stick to figures not the Constitution.
Senator Finance committee chairman Mohamed Mohamud (Mandera) weighed in, saying the project budget was shouldered primarily by the counties.
“We must agree fundamentally that this is a county function. We have seen our colleagues in the National Assembly inspect the equipment. If the ministry takes the position that this is a national function then they should get out,” said Public Accounts and Investment Committee Chairman Moses Kajwang' (Homa Bay).
His Bungoma counterpart Moses Wetang'ula added: “We want the signed contracts by each county creamed off money towards this programme. (It is) the desire of each senator to be furnished with these contracts detailing the value and process. It is sad that Elegyo Marakwet County paid Sh200 million and received machines worth Sh20 million.”
Kariuki asked for sufficient time to provide a detailed report. She tabled five contracts and memorandum of understanding for 43 counties signed with the ministry.
Mr Murkomen ordered the ministry officials to appear before Senate again to answer members' questions satisfactorily. “Present original contracts signed with suppliers and county government. We will scrutinise the document already tabled,” directed Murkomen.