May 2020 DailyNation; Can he succeed where his predecessors didn’t?
Can he tame the crooks and criminals who have called the shots at one of the country’s most important ministries for decades?
Those are some of the questions in the minds of many as Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe faces off with a cabal of well-connected and deeply rooted dissidents at Afya House, the ministry’s headquarters.
The genesis of the face-off, a Saturday Nation investigation shows, is a decision by the minister to seek the transfer of senior procurement and accounting officers, some of whom have worked at the ministry for more than 10 years, overseeing multibillion-shilling projects by one of the most well-funded dockets in government.
At least 30 officers have been moved from their plum Afya House offices, and more, according to ministry insiders, could be on the way out.
The Saturday Nation is not imputing wrongdoing on the transferred officers and does not have evidence yet of their criminal culpability.
However, Mr Kagwe said in a phone interview Friday that the transfers are part of radical measures to “bring down the cartels” at the ministry. He declined to divulge more details about the operation as investigations are still underway.
Those moved from the ministry were required to report to their new stations on Friday, according to a Treasury memo in our possession.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani says in the memo, which is copied to various Cabinet secretaries, that the transfers are on request of Mr Kagwe.
Those moved from Afya House have been redeployed to the National Treasury, the State department for Environment, Devolution, and Cooperatives and the National Youth Service.
Some of the senior officials moved include assistant accountant general Margaret Ngangu and senior accountant Anne Mwalonzi. Others are principal supply chain management officer Ciira Lydia Wairimu and chief supply chain officer Gesuka David Moranga.
The transfers come hot on the heels of tough talk by Mr Kagwe to clean up the mess at the ministry, for decades the theatre of multibillion-shilling scandals.
On Friday, he said the war is just beginning, and while he is still learning the intricate webs of deceit at the ministry, he will not relent.
“Sometimes when a battle like this comes up, it helps you to see who is on your side,” he said, adding that the transfers were just the beginning of a major cleanup in coming days.
In a long Facebook post on Thursday evening, the CS said he will take on the cartels head-on.
“I am no greenhorn. I have seen such mischief before, wasn’t intimidated then, and will not be intimidated now. Watch my actions, they will illustrate this,” he said.
The Ministry of Health has been dogged by serious corruption scandals in the recent past, and its procurement procedures have been found to deliberately opaque to allow and finance kickback-driven projects.
In December 2016, the ministry was rocked by a Sh5 billion corruption scandal involving diversion of funds, double payment for goods, and manipulation of the Integrated Financial Management System.
A leaked internal audit report revealed that the theft also involved payments of millions of shillings to phony suppliers.
Top on the list of fraudulent transactions identified in the audit report was the diversion of Sh889 million meant to be disbursed to county governments to support the free maternity care programme and its use in the purchase of phantom mobile medical clinics for urban slums.
About Sh800 million was believed to have been paid to Estama Investment Limited to supply 100 portable medical clinics.
Estama was paid the money in three instalments, including Sh400 million on June 27, but the payment voucher could not be found during the audit.
Even more questionable was the fact that Estama raised a separate purchase order for Sh200 million on June 30 and got paid the same day.
The Ministry of Health this year signed a memorandum with the counties to take up the mobile clinics under the Universal Health Coverage programme.