Senate probe opens lid on medical equipment scheme

Former Attorney-General Githu Muigai before the Senate committee investigating the Managed Equipment Service programme at Parliament buildings last week.  PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


What you need to know:

  • Former Attorney-General Githu Muigai accused ex-Health CS James Macharia and then PS Khadijah Kassachon of ignoring his legal advice and going ahead with the signing of the final contract with five contractors.
  • In the letter to CS Macharia, Prof Muigai said he had reviewed all the relevant documents and therefore they should proceed with the contract.

The ongoing investigation into the Sh63 billion Managed Equipment Service (MES) programme by a Senate ad hoc committee has lifted the lid on the disjointed communication within the government apparatus.

The committee chaired by Isiolo senator Fatuma Dullo this week came face-to-face with contradictory statements from two senior government officials. They gave different sets of information on the same issue yet they served in the government at the same time.

When he appeared before the committee on Wednesday morning, former Attorney-General Githu Muigai accused ex-Health CS James Macharia and then PS Khadijah Kassachon of ignoring his legal advice and going ahead with the signing of the final contract with five contractors.

Although Prof Muigai said he authorised the ministry to engage various contractors and even sign pre-contracts, they were to come back for review and final inking of the deal.

“The green light was for the ministry to go back and negotiate for the final contract. This meant they would not sign them but negotiate with the vendors. After that, they were to send the documents to me for review. They, however, never complied with that,” Prof Muigai said.

MULTIBILLION-SHILLING CONTRACTS

The former Attorney-General told the committee that during his tenure at the State Law Office, a number of ministries would by-pass his office in signing multibillion-shilling contracts and he would only learn of the projects when the ministries were seeking funding from the National Treasury.

But even before the ink could dry on the sentiments made by Prof Muigai, Mr Macharia produced a letter signed by the former Attorney-General giving the MES project a green light.

In the letter to CS Macharia, Prof Muigai said he had reviewed all the relevant documents and therefore they should proceed with the contract.

“My office has independently reviewed the MES contracts and we hereby ascertain the validity of the contracts and further confirmed the obligations of the government expressed in the transaction documents constitute legal, valid and binding obligations,” reads the former AG’s letter.

“It is my opinion that the letters of support as enclosed herein are in a satisfactory form for execution by the National Treasury. Arising from the above, my office hereby clears the MES contracts as well as the GoK letters of support as modified,” further reads Prof Muigai’s letter.

The governments’ lack of seamless working modus operandi was further revealed by former Health CS Cleopa Mailu, who told the same committee that he never saw the MES document during his three-year stint at Afya House.

CRUCIAL DOCUMENTS

Dr Mailu, now Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, shocked the committee saying that despite being the CS under which the project was being implemented, he was denied the crucial documents on account that they are ‘top secret’.

“I remember asking for the documents, I also remember Parliament asking for the same documents but I was told they are top secret and I wondered as a minister what is it that is a secret to me as a Cabinet secretary,” Dr Mailu said

“I couldn’t understand what was in the document that could not be availed to the minister and a committee of Parliament,” the former CS added.

Dr Mailu painfully narrated how he held meetings with the various contractors of the MES without even understanding the contents of the programme itself.

“Despite not understanding details of the contract, I tried my best to ensure that project succeeds," Dr Mailu said.

The former CS further told the committee how he was left alone to deal with any mess in the ministry, adding the two former principal secretaries who worked under him gave him a hard time and never gave him any support during his reign at Afya House.

“The tenure in the ministry was very challenging especially in the implementation of this project in terms of understanding and traction of the project by the ministry,” Dr Mailu said.

The contradictory statements from the three senior government officials left the committee members puzzled with senators asking how a CS cannot access documents pertaining to a project implemented in a ministry under his jurisdiction.

“It’s unfortunate that you could not get documents from your own ministry from the same government which you serve,” Mr Wetang’ula told former CS Mailu.

The committee is investigating whether the public got value for money for the MES projects as various reports have indicated that some of the expensive equipment procured to counties are lying idle due to lack of qualified personnel to handle them.

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