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Kemsa suspends bosses over Covid-19 tender probe


KEMSA Chief Executive Officer Jonah Manjari.

Three top managers at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) were yesterday suspended following ongoing probe into claims of impropriety in acquisition of Covid-19 pandemic equipment.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating the suspended officials - Chief Executive Officer Jonah Manjari, Procurement Director Charles Juma and his Commercial counterpart Eliud Muriithi - in relation to among others, controversial Sh7.7 billion tender for the emergency procurement of Covid-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that was to be delivered by July 22, 2020.

The agency has dominated the headlines lately following claims of questionable tenders awarded to powerful individuals. EACC is also investigating construction of a warehouse by Kemsa at Sh5 billion.

EACC asked the agency's board to take the action and suspend the officials pending the outcomes of the probe. This was after a preliminary analysis of the probe showed there were irregularities in the issues at hand and there were concerted efforts from within to cover up.

“Preliminary investigations have established that several senior officials of Kemsa engaged in irregular procurement of Covid-19 items through issuance of commitment letters to suppliers in excess of the approved budget and at highly inflated cost,” said a letter from EACC CEO Twalib Mbarak.

The letter, dated August 13, was sent to the Kemsa board chairman Kembi Gitura and copied to Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Principal Secretary Susan Mochache.

Yesterday, Gitura said the move was out of request from the anti-graft agency.

“We want to assure Kenyans and our development partners that Kemsa Board of Directors pledges unequivocal support to the ongoing investigations by EACC and other investigative bodies. We are not going to protect anybody found culpable and any such person shall face the consequences,” said Gitura.

He added the board was not going to victimise innocent persons just because there has been public outcry.

“As you know, Kemsa has been on the radar; the EACC has been carrying out investigations on the running to do with Covid-19 procurement and all the seven executive directors of Kemsa leading different directorates have recorded statements,” said Gitura.

The board appointed Edward Njuguna, the Operations director to act as CEO, while Edward Buluma and George Walukana will be the acting Procurement and Commercial directors respectively.

Gitura said Kemsa has been going through a rough patch recently, particularly from the media and the public complaining about procurement issues, particularly those pertaining to Covid-19 pandemic.

“As members of the board we realised the public has extreme interest in the matter going on at Kemsa. They are matters of public interest and we appreciate,” he said.

Mbarak said the commission notes the officials’ conduct constitute serious ethical breaches contrary to the integrity and ethical requirements governing the conduct of State and public officers as laid out under Chapter Six of the Constitution; the Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012; the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, 2003; and the Public Officer Ethics Act, 2003.

“The preliminary findings of the probe cast serious aspersion on the conduct of the three officials and it is therefore prudent and in the interest of the public that the officers be suspended from public service while investigations touching on them are still ongoing,” said part of the letter.

He cited the leadership and integrity regulations which allows for a State officer to be suspended from office pending the investigation and determination of allegations made against them, where the suspension is considered necessary.

The letter said the officer under suspension shall be on half-pay pending finalisation of investigations and determination of the allegations made against them.

EACC has been asking for documentary evidence around the award of the tender to the companies involved, including tender advertisement notices, bids submitted by bidders, tender opening minutes and list of all bidders.

The commission also wanted copies of the professional opinion on the procurement and contract agreements, having already questioned seven senior officials, including the CEO Manjari.

EACC is concerned that the tender was hurriedly awarded to a private firm using direct procurement under the cover of emergency needs, despite the fact that they were given three months to supply, as opposed to one month.

This was after Juma wrote to Manjari in April and June raising questions over why the company was chosen in direct procurement for a tender that should essentially be open to competition, given its size.

Juma stated that at the time of procurement, the authority already had stocks of up to 160,000 kits, while more than 200,000 more were expected to be delivered.

He queried why there was an urgency to procure 450,000 more with an excuse of emergency, yet three months were allowed for delivery.

Juma observed that direct procurement was unnecessary and that the tender to the private company, KILIG Limited, should have been revoked.

His letter pointed to a reality that commitment letters were being issued by Kemsa to prospective suppliers against recommended procurement procedure.

He advised the CEO to stop further evaluation of any samples presented by prospective suppliers, as doing so was giving the false impression that Kemsa was still involved in emergency procurement of Covid-19 response equipment.

In May, Ms Mochache wrote to Manjari communicating an audit of procurement made on behalf of the ministry relating to payments made using World Bank funds. The outcome of the audit is not yet known. [Anyango Otieno, Cyrus Ombati and Roselyne Obala]

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