Spying boss, crooked accounts books: Health ministry on the spot over suspect deals

Ruth Laibon Masha

National Syndemic Diseases Control Council CEO Ruth Laibon Masha addresses journalists in Mombasa in April last year. 

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

The National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) may have lost millions of shillings through a string of irregular contract awards and possible violation of procurement laws allegedly initiated by the State corporation’s CEO, Dr Ruth Laibon Masha.

Internal documents show that several contracts, whose values run into millions of shillings, were awarded to companies long before the procurement process started, and have now left the NSDCC with crooked books of accounts.

The Ministry of Health has received a letter from a former NSDCC employee blowing the whistle on the alleged procurement irregularities which also points accusing fingers at Dr Masha.

The letter indicates that Dr Masha may have been spying on workers to ensure that the State corporation’s dirty little secrets remain hidden.

The former employee claims Dr Masha informed him and other colleagues during a past meeting that two Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers stationed at the NSDCC were tasked with ensuring that workers do not pass information to other government agencies.

By the time of going to press, Dr Masha had not responded to our queries on the irregular procurement claims and allegations of DCI officers spying on NSDCC employees. While she said she had read our email detailing the questions to be answered, she insisted that she will only respond once we send her the whistleblower’s report.

“Share the report in reference. I confirm I do not have it and hence cannot be able to respond. I wish to inform you that I am out of the country and can only respond to the same when I resume back to the office,” Dr Masha said in an email.

Nation declined to share the whistleblower report with Dr Masha as it would have exposed the person in question.

In one of the tenders, a consultant provided services worth over Sh6 million even before the memo and purchase requisition had been raised and approved for the commencement of the procurement process. The consultant was to create content for a sensitization project dubbed “Jiinue Sasa” long before tendering was done.

The tender was awarded in August last year, one month before a memo approving procurement of the consultancy services was issued.

In public procurement processes, a memo is issued detailing the need for a particular product or service. The procurement department then prepares tender documents, rules and timelines based on the memo.

After bids are placed, the tender evaluation committee declares the lowest bid that meets technical requirements the winner. A contract is then signed and work done, with payment done during and after the provision of services.

But at NSDCC, several contracts were awarded after the procurement chain was broken and the rule book was thrown out to favour a few companies. The consultant, Light Art Production Ltd, was to be paid Sh6.4 million for the work.

Procurement for the services started after Light Art had provided educational content on the triple threat of HIV infection, social gender-based violence and adolescent pregnancies targeting 11 counties.

The tender had been reserved for disadvantaged groups under the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (Agpo) programme. But Dr Masha allegedly changed the eligibility criteria to ensure that Light Art could qualify as it was not registered under Agpo at the time.

On March 31, 2023 — eight months after the services were delivered — Dr Masha convened a meeting with NSDCC staff in which she demanded to know why the procurement process was dragging. Light Art could not be paid until tendering was done, possibly backdated to 2022 and rubberstamped by the NSDCC head of procurement as a healthy process.

In the meeting, a review of the process indicated that the work was done with the instructions from the office of the CEO who approved the consultancy memo for the services in September 2022 after the services had been completed.

Dr Masha claimed that the contractor had threatened to commit suicide on account of the unpaid Sh6.4 million debt.

In another award, Dr Masha allegedly booked space in a hotel in Mombasa for a conference before procurement had been done. Dr Masha allegedly ordered the NSDCC procurement boss to meet with the hotel’s representative to iron out a deal, despite an ongoing plan to invite select bidders through restricted tendering.

Despite the procurement head’s advice, the NSDCC awarded the contract to Pride Inn Hotels for Sh9.4 million. The function, dubbed Maisha Conference, is expected to be held in June.

Dr Masha has allegedly made several irregular employee redeployments at the NSDCC, leaving some individuals without a job description.

The CEO redeployed two individuals that took part in the evaluation of the content creation tender, for allegedly frustrating the communications department. An IT officer was moved to the communications department as part of the shake-up.