August 2020 DailyNation; Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe and Principal Secretary Susan Mochache on Saturday pushed back against claims that they were complicit in the theft of funds allocated to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a week that saw Ministry of Health officials and management of Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) trade accusations over who should take responsibility for the scandal, senior officials of the ministry leaked a trove of documents in an attempt to clear their names.
The information, exclusively obtained by the Sunday Nation, shows that the budget submitted by Kemsa to the Ministry of Health had details of items to procure, their quantities, the suppliers and the overall cost of the consignment.
What was not immediately clear was whether the PS came up with her own pricing and where to procure the materials — and who were to be given the tenders. However, the trove of documents includes emails and appears to absolve Ms Mochache of claims that she ordered Kemsa to procure various items and provided a list of firms which she wanted to be given the tenders.
“Whereas an impression has been created that the ministry had given Kemsa the list of suppliers, it is actually you (Kemsa) who had provided the details while submitting the rationalised budget. I reiterate that my concern in this matter was solely on the budget and that I had no intention to manage or direct the procurement process,” an email sent by Ms Mochache to Mr Edward Njoroge, the acting CEO at Kemsa, reads.
Commit a crime
Mr Kagwe, in a response to the Sunday Nation, said it is his job to talk to his CEOs, but not to abet crimes.
“I talk to them all the time but I have never asked or directed them to commit a crime,” Mr Kagwe said.
But it was Ms Mochache who appeared to be putting up a spirited fight to clear her name. In a letter to Kemsa, she charged: “If indeed you stand by the allegation that you were given the instructions by the ministry regarding which suppliers to procure from and at what process, please provide the letter that has been used to purport that my communication to you on this matter bore instructions as to where to source the items and their prices.”
The leaking of the internal documents came as lawmakers asked the government to halt payment of bills amounting to Sh148 million owed to companies that supplied Covid-19-related items to Kemsa.
Mbeere North MP Muriuki Njagagua, who is a member of the Health committee, argued that the items were procured through illegal instructions, hence any payment made would also be illegal.
“Now that we have established that the procurement tender was illegal, are we still going to pay the pending bills? Are we still going to honour those fraudulent tenders?” asked Mr Njagagua.
At the same time, the Pentecostal Alliance of Kenya asked Mr Kagwe to step aside and allow detectives to investigate his officials without interference. The alliance’s chairman, Bishop Jonah Kariuki, said the church will do everything in its powers to protect citizens.
“We are surprised that money that had been allocated to treat patients and manage Covid-19 has been stolen under CS Kagwe’s watch,” said the Bishop, who also asked suspended Kemsa CEO Jonah Manjari to provide all relevant information to investigating agencies.
“All we want is for these people to be apprehended and taken to court for corruption,” said Bishop Kariuki.
Pastor Bilha Joyce of Harvest Ministries International Nairobi said it is wrong for government officials to misappropriate Covid-19 funds. She also called on the government to take action to prevent donors from pulling away.
The Sunday Nation obtained the documents Friday, the same day suspended Kemsa CEO Manjari directly linked Mr Kagwe and Ms Mochache to the multibillion-shilling scandal.
Mr Manjari told a joint Senate committee of Health and Covid-19 that he would occasionally receive phone calls and text messages from either Mr Kagwe or Ms Mochache on issues related to procurement of Covid-19 materials. His statement was however weakened by the fact that he did not have written instructions from the two to support his claims.
In her fightback, Ms Mochache says there is a general misunderstanding on the letters purported to have originated from her.
On August 27, she wrote a letter to Mr Edward Njoroge, the Acting CEO at Kemsa, with the reference: “Allegations of provision by this office of names of preferred companies to supply Covid-19 items.”
“I wish to draw your attention to various communication that were sent to you via phone requesting for the status report on the procurement of Covid-19-related items as per my instructions to procure dated March 18, 19 and 23, 2020 which were not responded by your office,” the PS says.
On April 2, Mr Eliud Muriithi, the Kemsa Director of Commercial Services, wrote an email to PS Mochache giving her an update on the Covid-19 emergency procurement status. The email was copied to Mr Gitura, Dr Manjari and Mr Juma.
“Please note that we shall be forwarding another report that includes KNH on a different sheet and a summary of all MoH procurement as guided,” the email reads.
Later on the same day, Mr Muriithi sent another email with additional information which included amounts to be incurred.
“Please find final version of the Covid-19 emergency procurement status as at 02.04.2020.Please note that total planned procurement for PPEs, including ventilators, amounts to Sh236, 716,500.Planned procurement for lab commodities amounts to Sh318, 523, 945,” Mr Murithi writes.
He adds: “We shall need guidance on how to proceed on lab commodities in order to manage available budgets. For the sake of good order, please note that we have included on different sheets related procurements on behalf of other institutions, including Kenya Police, Prisons and KNH.”
On April 7, Mr Muriithi wrote to the PS saying that they had decided to scale down their commitments upon her advice.
The documents from Kemsa reveal discrepancies in the pricing of various items. For instance, a firm known as MEDS supplied N95 face masks at a cost of Sh250 while KEMA EA Ltd, Biroyal Int Ltd and Encartar Diagnostics Ltd supplied the same at a cost of Sh700 per item. Shil Trading and Logistics Ltd and Megascope Healthcare (K) Ltd were to supply the same N95 face masks at a cost of Sh900 per piece.
All the firms supplied Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits at a cost of Sh9, 500.