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Covid billions spending now cannon fodder for 2022 power games

By Rawlings Otieno | August 24th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

ODM leader Raila Odinga in Kisumu on August 14, 2020. [Denish Ochieng/Standard]

The Covid-19 billions spending is fast evolving into a political monster that could vaporise the political capital of some titans, sink the political careers of others and, ironically, revive fledgeling alliances.

It is an all-familiar story in the run-up to an election; a multi-billion shilling scandal erupts, denials follow in quick succession, politicians take extreme sides, truth is slowly unearthed, and the political fallout begins.

In the current scheme of things, Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has bared it all, for the first time urging media not to sensationalise the matter, while Deputy President William Ruto has latched onto it, bullishly describing it a “larceny”.

On the sidelines, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi is demanding a commission of inquiry as the church surges back to reclaim the opposition role, citing betrayal. It is the stuff political hot potatoes are made of.

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“The pretentious (former) opposition, now turned Lords of corruption, attempted defence of the Covid-19 grand larceny is not shocking. It confirms the worst of Kenyan’s fears that their side of the handshake was never interested in the people’s good but opportunity to loot. What a shame,” Ruto tweeted yesterday.

In quick response, ODM, through its Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, took on the DP, as claims and counterclaims on the real beneficiaries of the Covid-19 spending took centre stage. “We asked for an audit. In which language is that a defence of theft? It is the hope of the actual thieves to disappear in the fog of the manufactured ‘outrage’. The worst of Kenyans fear is you being in charge for we will lack words to describe the plunder that will ensue,” responded Sifuna.

As politicians traded words, it emerged that the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) may have been running a unilateral show after a letter from the National Treasury complaining of its dealings with shadowy stakeholders.

In the letter, Treasury PS Julius Muia says the agency had over-committed itself to a tune of Sh5 billion against its own budget, and in the process sidestepping its parent ministry.

“Kemsa has indicated that in consultation with stakeholders, it mobilised Covid-19 emergency supplies worth Sh5.1 billion with a view to mitigating potential supply shocks and far-reaching Covid-19 implications. However, we note that KEMSA has not provided information on whether the commitment was made without confirmation of the availability of funds from the ministry,” Dr Muia wrote.

He said Kemsa had addressed its request directly to the Treasury in violation of a known procedure of involving the parent ministry:

“Kemsa is advised that such requests should be channelled through the Accounting Officer, Ministry of Health. Further, since the National Treasury does not have any scope for additional funding the Ministry is advised to use the resources available for Covid 19, in the 2019/20 budget.”

Yesterday, Mudavadi decried rampant graft in the Ministry of Health, saying past actions by investigative agencies do not attract public participation and the nature of overzealous embezzlement inflicted on the health sector overtime demands that everything is done above board.

“The results of such inquiry must prescribe a definite, precise and binding actions against those found culpable. The only appropriate mechanism via which to get to the bottom of what is ailing the health sector is for the President to appoint a Judicial Commission of Inquiry,” he said.

Mudavadi said only such inquiry will soften the hearts of development partners threatening to abandon the country at its hour of need.

On July 6, the Global Fund held a meeting with the Ministry of Health where it complained that it was coming under immense pressure to explain the huge funds it was spending to oversight Kemsa.

On Saturday, ODM dismissed the theft talk as sensational, baseless and blamed the media instead. The party said this can only be ascertained after an audit by the Office of the Auditor-General.

But Mudavadi said ODM’s statement was mischievous, arguing that the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) has a backlog of audits to undertake and will take years before they audit the Covid-19 funds.

According to Mudavadi, the constitutional provision on leadership and integrity, Principles and Guidelines of Public Finance, the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, and the Public Finance Management Act have failed to tame and stop the corrupt.

“The situation is dire in the midst of this terror, some have found in our tribulations a source of profiteering through theft, fraudulent procurement schemes and grossly inflated prices. They need to be stopped. The public is restless and now requires answers,” he said.

International Centre for Peace and Conflict (ICPC) Executive Director Ndung’u Wainaina, while faulting Mudavadi’s proposition of a judicial commission of inquiry, said the country needs a holistic inquiry into State capture, economic crimes and endemic corruption.

Wainaina said the commission of inquiry should have powers of the High Court and be insulated from litigation.

“We do not need a commission of inquiry into only one ministry but the entire government,” said Wainaina.

He said although MoH receives the second biggest allocation of the budget at Sh117 billion, the functions are devolved.

Also, the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) blasted ODM for defending Kemsa, with Secretary-General Seth Panyako terming it disheartening.

“Let it be the last warning to ODM. It is the responsibility of every Kenyan, including leaders, to ensure the fight against corruption is taken to a different notch. We will not allow ODM to defend graft when Kenyans are dying over poor health services,” said Panyako.

Elsewhere, Lurambi MP Titus Khamala called on healthcare and other development partners not to pull out of Kenya because of the many corruption scandals being reported.

Speaking during distribution of masks given to his constituency by the US Embassy in Kenya, Bishop Khamala pleaded with USAID not to hold back its funding for HIV and Aids activities, saying the majority will suffer.

“I am appealing to donors to work out modalities of directly dealing with community-based organisations at the grassroots in channelling aid to the affected in the communities. The way they (donors) see graft in government is the same way we are seeing it and the bureaucratic system is making it worse,” he said.

Covid-19 ODM leader Raila Odinga Deputy President William Ruto
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