On 30th August 2019, a state parastatal went to the Nairobi High Court in search of an injunction seeking to stop the broadcast of a story about itself on a local TV channel. At around 11AM, the injunction was granted.

Armed with the injunction, employees of the state body retreated to their Langata Road offices victorious. The world, at least for the moment, would not be privy to the goings on around the organisation. And the dirt that had threatened to spill would for the time being be tightly kept under the carpet

For the next few hours, days and months, they hoped, the world would remain unaware of an intricate web of corruption between the organisations top management, a bank manager and four ghost companies that have together colluded to siphon hundreds of millions of shillings from the state- funded organisation.

The pilferage jeopardizing not only the current lives of thousands of children fully dependent on the state, but also putting serious risk to the collective futures of minors already dealt a bad hand in life through abandonment, poverty or disease.

After a months-long investigation, the Sunday Standard can reveal how close to half a billion shillings meant to take care of less fortunate children around the country has ended up in the pockets of a few individuals as a complicit parliamentary committee chose to look away. This is the story of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya.

Alone and abandoned

Over the course of the last six years, the minors in children’s homes under the care of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK) around the country have suffered congestion, lack of proper medical care and experimental treatment procedures that sometimes leave them worse-off.

Investigations by the Sunday Standard and interviews paint a picture of neglect and an abdication of duty by the state agency obligated to look after the less fortunate minors.

Children in the care of these state sponsored homes also suffer mistreatment, poor living conditions and in some instances, periodic abandonment of their education. The Sunday Standard brings you the story of the mess at CWSK and the devastating consequences the mess has had on lives of thousands of children under its care.

“After doing my orientation for one month at Mama Ngina Children’s Home, I was transferred to Waithaka,” a nurse at the CWSK told the Sunday Standard.

Waithaka is where children with special needs are sheltered. The physically challenged, some with bipolar disorders, as well as minors living with HIV. All these in constant need of proper medical care.

“At first I was told not to question anything. Questions would be answered with sackings,” the nurse says.

But in December 2018, pieces of the puzzle that is CWSK couldn’t fit anymore. “At that time we were told to stop taking children for physiotherapy at established hospitals,” the nurse says. It is at the new institution, which we cannot name because investigations by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board are ongoing, where something called ‘Green Therapy’, a mix of Chinese oriental medicine and ‘unproven physiotherapy methods’, were adopted.

“When we started questioning the quantity and quality of the medicine they were prescribing to the children, they just started giving us unpacked tablets. But these kids started reacting to these drugs,” another nurse says. “Every morning we would make a concoction of the tablets in a jug and give the children the drugs in form of a porridge.”

Workers say they couldn’t raise alarm over what they saw.

“We and the other professional consultants we were concerned about the safety of the children, but people feared reporting,” a social worker at one of the shelters said.

At some point, she says, housemothers and nurses were told to stop giving ARVs to children living with HIV and instead give them the African Potato, a plant some people use to make medicine. It is mostly used for urinary tract disorders although there is insufficient research to back its alleged medicinal qualities.

CWSK employees, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, said once the children were received at the health facility, they would be put through a mixed treatment regimen. First, there was acupuncture, deep tissue massage even for children recovering from burns and then put on some sort of vibrator that shook their entire bodies.

“We were told that procedure would heal all diseases the children had,” the nurse says. “Some would be given inner soles with alleged healing powers. Others would be given cards, just as big as ID cards, that would be strung around their necks. The facility’s operators would insist that the cards had healing properties.”

At some point during the sessions, operators at the institution, which the Poisons Board raided on Monday, would take pictures of the children, who are under state protection, telling the accompanying adults they were sending the pictures to the drug manufacturers.

“Children would cry whenever they knew they were being taken there,” another housemother said.

Documents in our possession show that between June 2018 and June 2019, the facility was paid close to Sh22 million for services rendered to children under the care of CWSK.

“I just wish everyone with links to this institution would treat the children as their own. Not subject them to this ‘green therapy.’ How is it that the organisation has no physiotherapists,” the nurse says.

This case is not the only instance when the children have been subjected to alternative forms of treatment.

God and the children.

In January of 2015, The World Today Power House Ministry that lists its address to Kilimani in Nairobi made a request in writing to the Consular Section of the High Commission of Kenya in Ghana. The request was pretty simple.

A pastor at the World Today Power House Ministry wanted the Kenyan consulate to grant a visa to a Ghanaian pastor, Nana Adwoa Wood, to come and minister in the country.

“This is to inform you that we have invited Nana Adwoa Wood to come and minister to the students,” the request, in our possession reads.

More tellingly though, the second paragraph of the letter gives some insight into another pending mission that the ministry had.

“The ministry is preparing patients (students) from Kenya who have registered to attend Autumn Session of Healing School in South Africa. The Healing School is a healing ministry of Rev Chris Oyakhilome which takes divine healing to the nations…each year the Healing School hosts Healing Sessions in Johannesburg, South Africa where thousands receive their healing and miracles in an atmosphere of faith and manifest presence of the Holy Spirit,” reads the paragraph.

Four months after this letter, in April 2015, a CWSK employee delivered an envelope to the visa section of the South African Embassy. In it were the names of close to 40 children under the care of the organisation. The request was simple. CWSK was applying for visas on behalf of the children. The visa was granted on April 5, 2015.

“To be admitted for religious visit for 30 days. Must hold return/ onward ticket,” the visitors’ visas, copies of which we have, read.

There was a peculiarity to these two requests. The request to the Kenyan consulate in Ghana and the other to the South African embassy requesting for visa processing were both written by persons bearing a similar name, Irene Mureithi. In the first instance she signed off as a pastor at the World Today Power House Ministry and on the second instance as the Chief Executive Officer of Child Welfare Society of Kenya. It is unclear if it is the same person.

The children on the trip to South Africa had an array of medical conditions. Some were HIV positive. Others suffered from cerebral palsy. Others had gigantism. While some had varied mental illnesses. One morning in May 2015, the children, split into two groups, Johannesburg bound to attend the healing school.

The children’s minders, who also attended the Johannesburg trip have told Sunday Standard that after the 14- day trip the condition of some of the children worsened.

The other obligations.

Apart from offering medical care to the destitute children, CWSK is also obligated, by virtue of it being a beneficiary of state funding, to provide education to students under its care.

But, insiders at the organisation accuse the management of prioritising infrastructure projects at the expense of education.

This, they say, has become so rampant that students often stay away from school due to lack of fees. Last year, the organisation received some Sh1.2 billion from the National Treasury to run operations.

Often, CWSK writes to learning institutions asking them to allow the children to continue with her studies with a promise of settling fee arrears in due course.

“The above named students are under the sponsorship of Child Welfare Society of Kenya. This is to confirm that we are in the process of preparing the cheque for her school fees. We kindly request you to allow the student to continue with her studies uninterrupted as we process their fees for second and third term,” reads one such letter in our possession. The letter is signed by a Peter Wambugu, an administrator at CWSK’s Mama Ngina Kenyatta Children’s Home. It is addressed to the Principal, Victorian Girls High School. It is dated June 24, 2019.

Apart from the fee payment hiccups, Mama Ngina, arguably one of the most known shelters run by CWSK, also stands out for other reasons.

In 2017 a contractor was awarded a tender to construct an integrated child and family centre, complete with perimeter wall and guard house. Also to be constructed are four two-bedroom houses, and four bed-sitter units for the staff.

In its 2019/2020 budget submission to the State, CWSK submitted that 60 per cent of the project was complete. A visit to the home by the Sunday Standard established that only the perimeter wall around the home was complete. The contractor has been paid some Sh157 million in the 2018/2019 financial year alone.

Yet behind this freshly put-up, sparkling beige and brick-red wall lies another world. Few beds and even fewer bedding has resulted in up to five children sharing mattresses spread on the floor.

Not every child is fortunate to have a blanket. Bed sheets or pillows remain absent luxuries on the mattresses covered in green coloured mackintosh.

A housemother at the home who spoke to us on condition of anonymity said only the strong boys, ‘those who can speak for themselves’ get beds. The younger, less vocal children are left ‘cowering in corners within the hostel waiting for dawn to break.

“It hurts that everyone seems to be looting from the children. From top management to even social workers,” the housemother says. At regular intervals, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, two employees of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK) alternate in making runs to the lobby of a local bank in Nairobi’s Kilimani area.

Numerous interviews with whistle blowers within the organisation show that the first instructions are issued from one of the offices to honour an invoice sent from one of the companies.

“Most of the time the invoices are generated within CWSK,” our source told Sunday Standard. The office then issues a cheque from CWSK, paying one of the companies whose registration details the Sunday Standard has obtained. 

After this is done, he then retreats to the electronic safe with a four-digit security code and removes the cheque book belonging to this particular company and proceeds to write another cheque for an over the counter withdrawal from the contractor’s account. He then hands over the cheques to either of the two men.

Sunday Standard has established that one of the men works as a social worker while the other is a driver for the organisation. After receiving the cheques, one of the men, depending on who is on duty, proceeds to the bank and deposits the cheque issued by CWSK as payment into the contractor’s account and almost immediately withdraws the deposited funds.

Our investigations have also established that all the leaflets are pre-signed- with the two employees appending their signatures and ID numbers on the back of the cheques as well. 

Sources also say that the role of these two employees was limited to depositing the payments from CWSK and withdrawing the same funds on behalf of the company from the two accounts and in the name of the company.

Since the start of the two projects in Isiolo and Murang’a to date, this company has been paid some Sh487 million.

The relationship between CWSK and a second company is also confusing. This company’s contract was again a mirror image of those by the other three companies. And like the other companies, its cheque book is also in the custody of CWSK. Although the company is registered under the name of a lady, the main operator of the company’s bank account is a male city lawyer.

The lawyer’s relationship with CWSK can be traced to 2013 when he represented the State agency in a legal matter.

This second company received some Sh47.2 million during the 2018/2019 financial year, bringing money paid out by CWSK to it since inception of the project in to some Sh279 million.

Of this, Sh137.1 million has been billed as labour costs, some Sh67 million billed as overheads while Sh74 million went into the purchase of construction materials.

Yet another company chosen by CWSK to construct an integrated child and family centre in Western Kenya also has a signatory who is an employee of CWSK who works at the head office.

The owners of another company also implementing a construction project outside Nairobi also conduct a majority of the company’s transactions at the same bank as the three previous companies in Nairobi’s Kilimani area.

Documents in our possession show that this particular company is operated by the bank branch manager’s elder brother and his wife. 

It is also at this same branch that CWSK employees, who are also signatories to the accounts of the CWSK suppliers go to deposit money on behalf of CWSK and withdraw it on behalf of the companies.

Investigations have also proved that the bank manager’s husband is also a supplier of various ICT materials to the child welfare body.

The links between the four companies and other service providers have led to the possibility of loss funds at CWSK.

The Absentee Protectors

Despite allegations of mistreatment of children, the CWSK has over the years done splendid work in caring for the country’s children. Thousands have had a shot at a better life because of them. Because of this history, the organisation does not operate in a vacuum.

As a State body it is answerable to several levels of authority. President Uhuru Kenyatta, on May 6, 2019 appointed Shakila Abdalla, former Lamu Woman Representative as the board chair of CWSK for a term of 3 years.

Attempts to reach the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer Irene Mureithi were not successful. Two of her three cellphone numbers were off while the third went unanswered. Messages left in her voicemail were also not replied. Neither were text messages.

We however got through to Joseph Gitau who is a the Chairman of the CWSK board of trustees. “We have not received any such complaints about the organisation. Please speak to the CEO. I am not involved in matters of tendering,” Mr Gitau said, before adding: “But let us know when you do your story and make sure you are reporting things that are right.”

When we sought comment about the on goings at CWSK from Labour and Social Welfare Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani, he responded that he was out of the country. “I am away in Japan at the moment and hope to be in Nairobi tomorrow evening and hope to give you a comprehensive position early next week,” the CS said in a WhatsApp message.

Reached for comment CWSK board chair said: “I was inaugurated on August 2 and we do not have a board in place yet. When the board is in place we will have the mandate to investigate these allegations and get a way forward.

Apart from the board, CWSK could also be held accountable by Parliament’s Labour and Social Welfare Committee chaired by Bura MP Ali Wario. Insiders at CWSK claim the rot at the organisation is not secret. When reached for comment, Wario said his committee was not aware of any issues at CSWK.

“There is nothing before us as a committee on the allegations of embezzlement of funds at Child Welfare,” the MP said.

If that storm was to ever catch you out somewhere near the Child Welfare Society of Kenya Offices in Nairobi’s Madaraka area, or if the sun ever shone too brightly or you and you look for shade inside CWSK offices, you will walk into the reception and be confronted with a bold statement.

“CWSK’s vision is to see all the children and young persons leading a happy, fulfilling and fruitful life. It exists to promote and secure the rights of children and young persons in order for them to realise their full potential.” Nothing about the suffering of the children that goes on in some of the institution’s shelters.