More than three million schoolgirls have gone without their supply of sanitary towels for the past year despite the government allocating Sh420 million, as the Ministry of Education and county parliamentary women representatives battle for control of the funds.
Supply of the pads has also caused a Principal Secretary to be probed by the National Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over ownership of a construction company awarded a tender to supply and distribute the towels to public primary schools, special primary and secondary schools, despite five other companies quoting better prices.
The matter was raised by Mavoko MP Patrick Makau who said he googled about the two companies and found the similarities.
"How come two companies -- Konyipad and Belion Construction -- share the same address and box number?" Mr Makau asked.
These details come in the wake of news that 14-year-old Jackline Chepng'eno, a pupil at Kabiangek Primary School in Konoin constituency, Bomet County, committed suicide on September 6, 2019 after being humiliated by a teacher for staining her dress with her menses for lack of sanitary towels.
The news, which has attracted the attention of the international press, brings to question the integrity of the process of tendering, adequacy and the quality of the sanitary pads meant for girls in government schools.
The funding has also remained almost the same since 2012. "We lastly received the pads for our pupils in 2018. They aren't enough. They were supplied by the national government under the ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender but distributed by the Woman Rep," a head teacher of a primary school in Mbeere South Constituency, Embu County, told the Nation.
Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang was taken to task by the PAC three weeks ago to explain how Konyipad Construction and Supplies Company Ltd was awarded a tender to supply and deliver sanitary towels to schools worth Sh23.8 million despite not being the lowest bidder.
Some committee members alleged that Dr Kipsang has links to the company as it shares an address with another company, Belion Hardware and Building Contractors, said to be associated with him.
He was ordered to furnish the PAC with the directorship details of the company within one week.
However, the documents used to tender, seen by the Sunday Nation, show that the directors of the company are Abdifatah Ibrahim Yussuf (100 shares), Shamis Jama Hussein (800 shares) and Bidii Mohamed Ibrahim (100 shares).
The PAC was scrutinising the 2016/17 Auditor General's report that revealed that after the technical and commercial evaluation had been carried out, 10 bidders proceeded to the price comparison.
That year, the National Treasury had set aside Sh0.4 billion for the purchase and supply of sanitary pads to schoolgirls.
"Six bidders who quoted higher prices compared to the lowest bidders were awarded the tenders and therefore occasioning a possible loss of Sh25.2 million," the report reads.
According to the Auditor General's 2017/2018 report, the State Department for Gender tendered for the supply of sanitary towels at a cost of Sh420.6 million.
Out of the expected 7,451,146 units that were paid for, 449,186 units worth Sh12,447,742 were not supplied.
Dr Kipsang told the committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi that there is no discrimination in the distribution of pads, telling the lawmakers that they are distributed on a need basis.
"The overall goal of the Ministry of Education is to provide equal access to quality education to both boys and girls irrespective of their social status. The purchase of sanitary towels is therefore aimed at providing this access through the provision of the towels," Dr Kipsang told MPs.
Mr Wandayi told the Sunday Nation that the committee is going to sit next week, review the list of directors of Konyipad as provided, then proceed to write its report in the next one month.
"We will review the information provided, talk to other witnesses if need be and take the next step," he said.
The Ugunja lawmaker said that though the issue of unfair distribution of the pads is not within their mandate, the committee will make its determination known when it retreats to write its report.
Chairman, Education Committee in the National Assembly, Julius Meli (Tinderet), said the problem is that the money has been domiciled in the wrong ministry in the past two years.
"We had recommended, as a committee, for this allocation to be at the Ministry of Education, which is the line ministry so that girls can be helped promptly," Mr Meli told the Sunday Nation.
"The money was in the Ministry of Gender and Sports, where it remained unabsorbed for the past two financial years; then it was transferred to the National Government Affirmative Action Fund under woman representatives; this money should be with the Ministry of Education, and we had told the PS to intervene," Mr Meli added.
He said that the bureaucratic nature of getting the money is causing problems to girls in getting sanitary towels, adding that the budgetary allocation should also be increased so that the towels can be provided to every girl in school.
"At first they were targeting low income areas and nomadic places, but we are making a proposal that let every girl be targeted so that it is possible for them to get the towels. We need budgetary increase because now we are talking about 100 per cent transition," Mr Meli said.
Tongaren MP Eseli Simuyu and his Ruaraka counterpart T.J Kajwang' questioned how the ministry arrived at the beneficiaries, saying schools in his constituencies did not receive the pads.
"Distribution of the sanitary pads was set to meet a political end. In Bungoma County, it is only my constituency that did not receive the sanitary pads," Mr Simuyu said.
Mr Kajwang' also raised concern that schools in slums in his constituency, such as Korogocho, have not received the pads.
Whereas the Ministry of Education has been in charge of the purchase and distribution since the project was launched by then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga and then-Education Minister Mutula Kilonzo, that responsibility was moved to the Public Service, Youth and Gender ministry two years ago.
At the time, Mr Kilonzo wanted the funding raised to Sh2.6 billion to keep all the girls in school.
"What can I do for all girls in this country with Sh400 million? There are areas in Kenya where people cannot even afford food and shelter. How can they purchase sanitary towels for their girls?" he posed.
In the Bomet incident, the girl was subjected to ridicule by her female teacher "for being dirty" in front of her classmates and told to go home. She committed suicide a few hours later.