President William Ruto on Tuesday sacked his Principal Secretary in the Health Ministry and threw out the entire board of the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority. Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha, on her part, suspended the CEO of Kemsa, Ms Terry Ramadhani, and a bunch of her senior team members, and reconstituted the board.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission was called in to investigate the agency that has in recent times become the country’s poster boy for corruption.
These actions were followed on Wednesday by the announcement of the suspension of another 27 senior managers of key parastatals as investigations continued into their possible collusion or involvement in questionable deals. One of those suspended is the Kenya Bureau of Standards Managing Director, Mr Bernard Njiraini, and some other senior officials over the serious matter of the sale to the public of 20,000 bags of contaminated sugar.
Other officers suspended were from the Kenya Revenue Authority, the National Police Service, the Agriculture and Food Authority, the Port Health Services, the National Environment Management Authority, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, the EACC and the Kenya Ports Authority. All critical revenue and/or regulatory agencies whose services are at the core of a smooth, efficient and productive public service.
The actions of the President and his Health Cabinet Secretary appear dramatic while they should be pretty routine if they became necessary at all in the first place. They appear tough only because of the reticence of holders of key public offices to do their job. And also because action against corruption has remained tepid and completely inconsequential.
We have seen ministers being removed and charged in court, only for cases to drag on for years and get dropped, either because of weak cases or because of a complicit judiciary. We have seen senior parastatal managers being charged and later released, the latest such instances happening soon after President Ruto took office.
The shame of the other recent Kemsa scandal that birthed the ‘Covid billionaires’ is still fresh, as is the fact that the very same EACC did camp at the Kemsa offices, investigated and made recommendations that were filed away with the disdain that is now the trademark reception given to many of the recommendations of the EACC and other enforcement agencies.
Kenyans will therefore be excused if they sneer at the ‘dramatic’ actions of the President and his minister, and at the promises that the EACC shall put together a compelling prosecutable case against the suspended officers.
The reason is simple. This kind of corruption is not the retail business of ‘chai’ that resides at the lower rungs of government service. This plays out at the grand levels where the movers are the very senior public officers who know where public spending is planned, where the big cash is and how the processes are worked through planning, tendering, selection of vendors, approvals during execution, payment processing and cash release. Payments for such deals are never delayed!
The masterminds that work with the private sector cartels that supply the goods and services to the government sit in Cabinet with the President. Information doing the rounds is that even this latest Kemsa scandal may have been instigated by a relative of a senior government operative, prompting the President’s warning at a meeting with Cabinet secretaries during the week.
Corruption is particularly pervasive in the police service and the Ministry of Health, although it is present in all sectors. President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his famous public admission, did say that the presidency was heavily compromised and that the vice cost the public some Sh2 billion daily. This tallies with the EACC approximation that Kenya lost about Sh608 billion to corruption annually.
A report launched on Wednesday was particularly uncomplimentary of how projects at the Ministry of Health are handled. The procurement and financial management processes were heavily compromised, leading to wastage and denial of life-saving services to wananchi. The findings of that report can very aptly apply to any government ministry. And it was not the first such report.
While the actions we saw this week from the President and the Cabinet Secretary were also not novel, we hope they mark a decisive pivot from what all along has appeared to be some complacency towards corruption. The President’s faith in institutions while admirable, is unfortunately unrealistic.
He has been part of the system for too long not to accept the fact that those institutions are an integral part of the corruption vortex. Their effectiveness will be directly influenced by his own uncompromising and relentless focus on the tackling the vice. His legacy and the small matter of clawing back some of the Sh608 billion should be an added motivation.
Mr Mshindi, a former editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi