Acting Kenya Medical Supplies Authority Chief Executive Andrew Mulwa has admitted that he changed the specifications for the botched Sh3.7 billion mosquito nets supply tender.
Appearing before the Senate Health Committee yesterday, Dr Mulwa told MPs that at the time the specifications were changed, he was the director responsible for malaria at the Ministry of Health.
He said after the advertisement for the tender went out, the Head of the Division of National Malaria Programme, whose name he did not give, raised concern that the advert did not have PBO specifications.
“I advised him to do a memo to me on the same. He did a memo and somehow the memo did not get through to my office but was acted upon by the Principal Secretary, Dr Josephine Mburu,” he told the committee.
And that’s how the tender was changed. PBO was not part of the original tender, which led the Global Fund to reject the deal.
In the initial tender advertised by Kemsa on January 31, 2023, as an international open tender with a bid deadline of February 23, 2023, which was later extended to March 10, 2023, there were no PBO specifications.
The extension — according to Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha, who also appeared before the committee — came upon receipt of communication from Dr Mburu, then State Department of Public Health and Professional Standards principal secretary.
Dr Mburu is said to have instructed that the PBO be included and the timeline extended to March 23, 2023.
Upon receipt of the communication, then Kemsa CEO Terry Ramadhani sought advice on the new specifications.
Kemsa wrote to the Global Fund to seek their concurrence. The organisation later communicated asking Kemsa not to modify the tender specification and only procure standard nets as had been advertised earlier. The tender closed when there were no changes to the tender documents.
“Since we were near the close of the tender, members of the tender committee were appointed by the PS, Dr Mburu, on March 8, 2023, and this was the opening and evaluation of the tender,” Ms Nakhumicha said.
From the committee proceedings, it emerged that Dr Mburu acted upon receipt of communication from the Head of Malaria Division and was instructed by Dr Mulwa to do a memo to be acted upon.
“Are you saying that the advice from the principal secretary to request for the amendment of the tender came from your office,” Health committee chairperson Robert Pukose asked.
“Are you the one who instructed that the memo be done? And you looked at the advert and found out that the PBO was missing?
“What the committee is learning is that the technical advice to the PS to make amendments originated from Dr Mulwa’s office and was signed by him. His attempts to lie to the committee will not go unnoticed. This is not acceptable,” said Dr Pukose.
Dr Mulwa replied: “Yes, I asked him to do a memo if he was convinced the PBO was missing. The memo was sent to the PS, who acted upon it but at the programme level we did not have contact between Kemsa, Global Fund and the National Treasury, so we did not know what specification they had agreed upon.”
He said while giving the specifications, they had given three options — blue, green or white — and in terms of insecticides, they had suggested either PBO or pyrethrins, with the Global Fund settling on pyrethrins.
“At that time, the head of the programme did not know what they had settled on because there was no communication on what they had settled on,” Dr Mulwa said.
“Had it passed through your office, would you have forwarded the same communication to the PS?” Dr Pukose asked.
“I would have consulted the National Treasury before giving the PS the document,” Dr Mulwa said.
Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge said Dr Mulwa was responsible for the botched tender.
“It was your advice that made the Global Fund withdraw from the tender award. You are the one who advised that the memo be written. You are the one who made the government lose the contract and today, Dr Mulwa, you are the CEO of the organisation that is responsible for the storage and distribution of the nets,” Mr Mathenge said.
He added: “You tampered with the specifications and you are the person in charge of the same organisation. Don’t you think that’s conflict of interest and that you have no moral authority to head Kemsa?”
Ndhiwa MP Martin Owino added: “When we listen to the narrations, it is very unfortunate... we altered this to benefit other people. We did not just lose the tender but we lost our integrity as a nation. We’ll lose lives if we are not careful.”
Kisumu Central MP Dr Oron Joshua Odongo said it is unfortunate that Dr Mulwa is the Kemsa boss.
“We are here because his actions led the country to the scandal that we have before us,” he said.
Committee vice-chairperson Patrick Munene asked Dr Mulwa not to lie to MPs, saying the acting CEO forwarded the specifications and signed on every page of the document.
“You were the director and sought the requirements. Don’t lie to us,” Mr Munene said.
In defending Dr Mulwa, the CS told the committee that the acting CEO was only prepared to answer questions relating to Kemsa.
“He prepared his response as the CEO of Kemsa, so I want to ask that he be given time to prepare for questions on his previous role as director,” said the CS.
The request was declined.
“You cannot tell us that he has forgotten everything he did as the director,” Dr Oron said.
Dr Mburu was the first casualty in the saga, followed by then Kemsa CEO Ramadhani before the whole Kemsa board was sent home.
“The people who are being glorified to be working and being promoted are the same people who are the cartels and the crafters of these tenders at the Ministry of Health,” said Webuye East MP Martin Wanyonyi Pepela.