Leaders’ greed amid economic downturn would test the patience of the Good Lord

PPEs at Shona EPZ Limited in Athi River
Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The EACC has opened an investigation on how Kemsa tendered for emergency procurement of PPEs.
  • Parliament is also looking into how the government has been spending billions donated by international donors earmarked to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

As tales of racketeering in Covid-19 supply contracts surfaced in the media, a friend sent me a short, furious WhatsApp message: “This country needs Jesus.” Maybe, though I would venture to add that the rapaciousness of Kenyans would test the patience of the Good Lord, no less. Not even a raging pandemic is enough to deter them.

But wait a minute. Weren’t there people doing honest business apart from the crooks who take advantage? Didn’t we urgently need stuff like N95 masks, personal protective equipment (PPEs) kits and ventilators?

Somebody had to import them and supply the government. The same was happening all over the world. And those people were not doing it for free. Yes, especially in a time of crisis.

As long as the equipment was of the required standard and the contracts compliant with stipulated rules and at prices that were not extortionist.

Ordinarily, the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) has pre-approved vendors who ship in medical supplies on its behalf. But in times of an unexpected emergency like Covid-19, others with capacity and cash upfront are allowed to import. One caveat is that the quality of what they supply must meet Kemsa’s specifications. If not, the vendors should not be paid.

The media reports detailed cases of overpriced tenders. The Ministry of Health’s position is that those were the international prices prevailing at the time of contracting.

High demand globally

Ventilators and PPEs were in high demand globally. And in short supply. China was the main source market then. High demand and limited supply makes prices skyrocket. Plus during emergencies like Covid-19 or drought, direct tendering is in certain cases allowed. With other supply lines now open, the prices have gone down. And some equipment is now being manufactured locally. A facility in Kikuyu, Kiambu, is making N95 masks.

Of course, it would be naive to imagine shady cartels don’t circulate around MoH. They do. And they are vicious. I have reliably heard major staff changes are imminent at the ministry, and at Kemsa. If there were briefcase outfits that cut procurement corners, they must be outed.

More than that, the government must commit to account for every penny meant for the Covid-19 fight. That is vitally important.

The EACC has opened an investigation on how Kemsa tendered for emergency procurement of PPEs. Parliament is also looking into how the government has been spending billions donated by international donors earmarked to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The money was from the IMF, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the EU, among others. Specifically, the Senate has asked the Auditor-General to do a special audit on the government’s Covid-19 expenditures, including possible misappropriation by county governments. Good. Let everything come out in the open.

We are also not done yet with that extravagance called Managed Equipment Services. The scheme was conceived as a kind of partnership between the county-run health units and private sector providers of healthcare equipment.

Public hospitals would lease the equipment on guaranteed terms by the government without having to incur the capital cost of purchase. A fancy idea on paper, of the kind the Jubilee government gets overly infatuated with (like with the stillborn ‘Huduma Namba’). Yet it was doubtful the county governments were fully ready for this equipment leasing project.

Sh38 billion

Alas, reportedly the initial cost was to be Sh38 billion, which was then varied to Sh63 billion, with no clear explanation. A Senate investigative report on the scheme due to be released last week was put off till September.

And, pray, what became of the 20,000 coronavirus test kits donated to the country – free of charge – by Chinese businessman Jack Ma? In June, the Daily Nation reported the extraordinary admission by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe that the consignment had been stolen on arrival, almost certainly for resale to the government. The DCI was said to be investigating the matter, but nothing has been heard on the matter since.

Curiously, county governments have been rather economical with information about their covid-related expenditures.

Some, like Makueni, have been refreshingly open. But many others have been quite opaque. Limited ICU beds has been a common problem. Another has been of counties procuring sub-standard equipment.

And when employees are losing jobs across the board because of coronavirus, the National Assembly in its wisdom has awarded its retirees a lifetime monthly pension of Sh100,000. It’s just obscene. Incidentally I was not surprised to hear a good number of the MPs were pressing to win supply contracts from MoH and Kemsa.