Zachariah Shimechero: The man who set the bar too low at Health ministry

Zachariah Shimechero.

What you need to know:

  • At independence, he was the Deputy Commissioner of Police and later the Commissioner of Settlement of Squatters.
  • After receiving the bribe, Shimechero is said to have used proceeds of the reward to buy land in Mombasa.

Thousands of mourners gathered in Malinya, Ikolomani Constituency, Kakamega County, for the burial of Zachariah Shimechero last month.

Former Kakamega Senator Bonni Khalwale, his relative, tweeted that Mr Shimechero, who died at the age of 87, succumbed to hypertension-induced cerebrovascular accident (CVA), the medical term for a stroke.

Shimechero was hailed as a hero and “illustrious son of Malinya”, but in life the departed man held many titles. He represented the Idakho sub-tribe in the Luhya Elders Forum and was a successful farmer and renowned businessman.

At independence, he was the Deputy Commissioner of Police and later the Commissioner of Settlement of Squatters, the last holder of that position before the office was disbanded. He was also the first treasurer of AFC Leopards from 1966 to 1972, and also served as the chairperson of the club.

But, away from the glory and glamour, the tributes and eulogy missed one very important chapter of Shimechero’s life: he was also the among the first Kenyans to be tried and found guilty of a drugs heist at the Ministry of Health when he served as the deputy secretary in charge of the Government Central Medical Stores, the precursor to the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa).

Permanent Secretary

It’s actually upon the arrest of Shimechero that the then Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, on July 30, 1973, requested that the stores system for medical supplies be reorganised to improve control and accountability.

The name of the authority was changed to the Central Medical Store Management Information System (CMS/MIS), then the Medical Supplies Coordinating Unit (MSCU) in 1983 before being established as a state corporation known as Kemsa in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2005 that it became fully operational under the new tag.

Shimechero was charged in the morning of Wednesday July 25, 1973 with two counts of corruption in office relating to the supply of drugs to the Ministry of Health. It was alleged that he received a total of Sh143,250 as reward from businessman Arvind Kumar Patel in order to procure for his firm two Government tenders.

He was charged before senior Resident Magistrate SK Sachdeva, who later became a High Court judge , and who, as Magistrate, was described by former Chief Justice Abdul Majid Cockar as a “notorious” and “corrupt”.

Grant or deny bail

Sachdeva had the powers to grant or deny bail and is (in)famously regarded as the forerunner of the enterprise now known as the cartels in our courts.

On the prosecution side was Deputy Public Prosecutor James Karugu, who rose through the ranks to become Attorney-General, and who is touted as the best AG in Kenya to date. He was assisted by Sharad Rao, appearing for the State.

On the other side, Shimechero was represented by SM Otieno, the famous Nairobi advocate whose death reformed the country’s succession law. Writing recently, Peter Mwaura, Nation’s public editor, recalled the story.

 “The story was that Zacharia Shimechero, the deputy secretary in charge of the Government Central Medical Stores, was receiving bribes from pharmaceutical companies to buy expired or copycat and untested drugs manufactured in some backstreets of Bombay (Mumbai),” he wrote.

After receiving the bribe, Shimechero is said to have used proceeds of the reward to buy land in Mombasa.

His accomplice Elijah Akelola, was sent to prison for 18 months for corruptly receiving Sh16, 200 as reward for leaking information on Government tenders related to Ministry of Health.

In his defence, Akelola pleaded for leniency, arguing that he was a first offender and a married man with a large family who had “succumbed to temptations from wealthy people”.

Shimechero schooled at Mang’u High School with the late minister John Michuki. He joined the police service with a direct admission to Assistant Inspector after finishing Kiganjo Police Training College in 1955.

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