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Probe into NHIF scandal postponed

 NHIF CEO Samson Kuhora (left) flanked by PS Harry Kimutai when they appeared before the Robert Pukose-led committee. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The grilling of officials from eight hospitals that allegedly defrauded Kenyans of their money is seemingly dragging.

This follows its postponement for two consequent days by the National Assembly Health Committee conducting the investigation on officials implicated in the case where hospitals received payments through individuals claiming to be employees of NHIF.

The postponement is painting a grey area on whether the National Assembly Department of Health is committed to investigating the case.

With only 39 days to conclude the investigations, the Robert Pukose-led committee says it has yet to collect crucial details from the NHIF, and Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council (KMPDC), including the eight hospitals in the scandal.

Among the hospitals that had been scheduled for grilling include St Peter's Orthopaedic and Surgical Hospital in Kiambu County, Afya Bora Hospital, Afya Bora Hospital Annex Jekim Medical Center and Jekim Hospital in Imenti South, Meru County.

Others are Joy Nursing and Maternity Hospital and Beirut Pharmacy and Medical Centre.

"We have not gone through the report of NHIF and KMPDC. We therefore feel that the secretariat will give you soft copies of the two reports so that you can go through it, and prepare yourselves adequately," said Pukose, during the postponement of the grilling process on Tuesday.

"We have prepared ourselves adequately so that we can go through your reports, both NHIF and KMPDC. For that reason, the committee secretariat will deliberate tomorrow after going through the report and see when we can invite you for the inquiry," he said.

On Tuesday, three hospitals had turned out for the grill, namely Jekim Medical Center, Jekim Hospital and Afya Bora Hospital.

But contrary to Pukose's statement that a section of hospitals had not furnished the committee with all details, Jekim Hospital and Jekim Hospital Center advocate Carlpeters Mbaabu said the two facilities tabled all elements during the proceedings.

Mbaabu said he was shocked that NHIF and KMPDC supplied the committee with key documents in the morning, at a time the probe was to commence, whereas some were being photocopied at the parliamentary premise.

By the time of tabling them (NHIF and KMPDC reports), the hospital had not been served with a copy.

"After adjournment, we have requested the committee chairperson to supply the two hospitals with a copy of the documents to be in a position to advise our clients, and supply all answers," said Mbaabu.

"As far as we are concerned, there is no single complaint from NHIF or any other entity representing NHIF against either Jekim Hospital and Jekim Hospital," re-affirmed the lawyer in defence, who also complained of travelling from Meru, to spend a night in Nairobi, only for the grill to be postponed.

The chair of the committee directed the supply of the documents to the hospitals.

Mbaabu said the hospital received a summons on Thursday last week. The grilling of the scandal began On July 25.

Despite delay by hospitals, NHIF, and KMPDC to table the required documents key to guide the probe, Pukose defended the committee saying they also have other roles to play, an issue that affects the grilling process.

"Unfortunately, for sittings, it is not a continuous sitting, because members have other roles to deal with for example committee retreats. We also have several Bills for example NHIF ones, Assisted Reproductive and Kenya Drugs Authority," said Pukose.

But sources reveal that the committee had gone silent until a week ago, when a section of members raised an uproar on the delay to probe the hospitals.

In a quick rejoinder through the media, Pukose maintained that the committee had not been compromised.

"No single member of the committee has been compromised. We shall stick to the 90-day timelines," he said.

Committee Vice Chairperson Patrick Munene said that when conducting an investigation, most of the work is not done when individuals are summoned to appear before the committee but only appears when the process is almost complete.

"Investigations are an everyday job. Most of the reports are almost ready now, we need reports from KMPDC which are almost ready, we need reports NHIF which are almost ready, we need reports from regions which are almost ready," the vice chair said during a media interview.

He added, "Not calling them (accused parties) here does not mean all investigations are going on. We are in the process of preparing the reports, and when we get these reports, we want to go categorically to people".

Munene said when KMPDC provides a report saying a hospital has, for example, three days, yet makes claims for 40 days, the hospital cannot be blamed as the council does registration.

"When NHIF tells us that a hospital has been receiving fraudulent claims, and claiming money falsely saying they do specialised treatment when they are not allowed, do we blame the hospital?" posed Munene. "...it means the hospital was colluding with an insider."

He noted that the committee is not just summoning hospitals to punish them, but rather to get conclusive information on rogue individuals at NHIF.

"We are calling the hospitals because we want them to tell us whom they were working with inside (NHIF) because they are insiders," he said.

"The hospitals did not hack the NHIF system to pay themselves, it is not broken, it means the thieves are within NHIF," said the vice chairperson.

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