Fuel station at a public hospital in Bomet was not authorised

Dr Joseph Sitonik, the Bomet CEC for Medical Services and Public Health during grilling at the county assemblyon November 29, 2022

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nnation Media Group

A fuel station at Longisa County Referral hospital in Bomet County was set up without the required certificates and authorisation from key government agencies.

It has also emerged that a person whose identity was not revealed volunteered to fund the installation of the tank and fuel pump at the site.

Public participation, a legal requirement, was not conducted by the county before the final decision was made by hospital administrators to construct the station.

A report from a consultant working for the environment watchdog Nema was used to install the station, but the hospital does not have a compliance certificate from the agency.

County Medical Services and Public Health executive Dr Joseph Sitonik, hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Weldon Kirui and administrator Mr Felix Langat brought out the issues when they were questioned by ward reps.

They appeared before the health and sanitation committee, chaired by the Longisa ward member of the county assembly (MCA, Stephen Changmorik, to shed light on the controversial issue after written submissions from Dr Sitonik were rejected.

It followed a question raised by Kembu MCA Bernard Langat on November 17. He sought to know the legality and safety of the project and procurement process involved.

That prompted county assembly Speaker Cosmas Korir to direct the committee to table a report on the matter in the House in two weeks’ time.

Dr Sitonik, Dr Kirui and Mr Langat confirmed to the committee that the fuel station was set up without a physical planning certificate.

The hospital’s physical plan has not been amended, it emerged, though several structures have been constructed over the years, including a campus of Kenya Medical Training College.

Though the original financial estimate for setting up the station was Sh7 million, it was scaled down to Sh1.7 million by the administration, Dr Sitonik said.

But even after coming up with the estimated costs, the county does not know how much the donor has spent as there is no signed memorandum of understanding with the department of Medical Services and Public Health, which the hospital falls under.

Still, construction of the station was not factored into the 2021/2022 budgetary estimates, and as such the hospital does not have a vote head for implementing the works, with the Auditor-General and the Controller of Budget likely to raise questions about it.

Hospital administrators had expected to use savings from other vote heads to build the station, but no line items were identified for slashing.

“From 2018, the issue has been a problem and we have a lot of pressure, including from the public, with the issue re-emerging during the recent campaigns ahead of the August 9 General Election. It is true, formal public participation was not conducted,” Dr Sitonik stated.

Governor Hillary Barchok directed the Health department in May 2021 to find a solution to the problem that led to the decision to put up a fuel station.

But there are no written directives from Prof Barchok on the matter and no minutes from the board of management showing how the decision was made, the committee heard.

“Through the connections of the governor, somebody is funding the installation of the tank and the dispensing pump. But I cannot give you the name of the person,” Dr Sitonik said.

Repeated demands from Mr Changmorik, the committee chairman, vice-chairperson Catherine Chepngetich and members Peter Kipkirui Mutai (Sigor), Richard Cheruiyot Rutto (Chemaner), Kibet Ngetich (Siongiroi), Leonard Rotich (Chesoen), Roseline Cheptoo (Rongena Manaret) and Peter Ronoh (Kipsonoi) that Dr Sitonik release the name of the donor were sidestepped.

Dr Joseph Sitoni (front), Dr Weldon Kirui (back left), the Medical Superintendent at Longisa county referral hospital and Mr Felix Langat (Left) the administrator at the hospital during the grilling on November 29, 2022 by Health and Sanitation Committee over the construction of a fuel station at the hospital

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

“I cannot give you the name of the person funding the project. Maybe he would want to come out in the end, but I cannot give you the name. He is a friend to the governor … It is the governor who knows the name,” Dr Sitonik said repeatedly.

The officers sought to convince the committee that the facility was not a fuel station but a fuel storage tank as it would not be operated as a business enterprise.

“Members of this committee through the chairman need to protect us from the misconception that what we have in place is a petrol station when it is actually a fuel storage tank. The public have this feeling they can come to refuel there when their motor vehicles run out of fuel,” Dr Sitonik said.

But Mr Changmorik reminded Dr Sitonik and the other officers that the document they tabled before the committee calls it a fuel station.

Ms Chepngetich and Ms Cheptoo demanded to know how hospital administrators found it a priority to put up a fuel station when there were more important and pressing issues that needed to be addressed, including lack of drugs, a shortage of health workers at health centres and other essential services.

Dr Sitonik admitted that there was pilferage in the management of fuel in the department and they needed to centralise the dispensing point and curb wastage.

“We introduced fuel cards in the past in a bid to cure the pilferage problem, but [they] did not work. We are confident that storing the fuel at the hospital would help us solve the perennial problem,” Dr Sitonik said.

Delays by the exchequer to release money to counties had resulted in contracted (pre-qualified) private fuel stations in the region denying the county fuel for its fleet of vehicles over unpaid supplies.

“Members of this committee can attest to the fact that ambulances have gone without fuel. We are not sure how the fuel is drained (from the vehicles). The department has literally had to beg the petrol station owners to provide the fuel for emergency cases,” Dr Sitonik said

“The issue is rampant towards the end of every financial year and the only solution is for the department to buy fuel in bulk and manage it at the hospital.”

Dr Sitonik and the other officers were at pains to explain how the project was implemented without the required clearances from the various agencies, even with available financial expenditure lines indicating it had not been itemised for funding.

“Is it not true that when the governor gave you the directives, he expected you to ensure the law and procedures were complied with?” Mr Changmorik asked the officers.

In response, Dr Sitonik said: “We did what we thought was best under the circumstances, but we may not have gotten it right in some areas. We are urging this committee to help us do the right thing,”

Mr Langat said certificates of compliance would be available when the facility is completed.

Dr Kirui said improvements had been made in the management of the hospital especially in handling and treating patients, availability of drugs and modernising diagnostic equipment.

Mr Langat, the Kembu ward MCA, who raised the question in the assembly attended the committee session. He said he demanded answers on the matter that is of public interest as the legislature is expected to provide oversight on the decisions of the executive.

“There is nothing personal about this matter. We are simply doing what we were elected to do and we took [the] oath of office for. The voters expect us to do just that,” Mr Langat said when he was given a chance to address the committee, whose session he attended as an interested party.