Kenya: Lobbies Want Accounts of Covid-19 Millionaires Frozen, Probe Hastened

24 August 2020

At least 25 lobby group have joined the push to have public officials who oversaw the plunder at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa), creating overnight millionaires swiftly investigated and prosecuted.

The groups also wants President Uhuru Kenyatta to address the nation on allegations of corruption at Kemsa and in county governments, which are putting at stake billions of shillings in donor funds.

The lobbyists who comprise civil society and non-governmental organisations, the private sector, professional bodies and trade unions in Kenya said on Monday said that they have noted with great concern gaps in transparency and accountability by government agencies charged with managing Covid-19 resources.

"These loopholes have led to the over pricing of commodities, purchase of substandard personal protective equipment (PPE), embezzlement of commodities including donated PPE, failure of the PPE to reach those who need it the most including healthcare workers on the frontline of fighting Covid-19, and misappropriation of public funds meant to procure protective gear and support vulnerable Kenyans against the impacts of the pandemic for instance the Kazi Mtaani programme," the groups said in a statement.

Nation Media Group expose

This follows a Nation Media Group expose dubbed "Covid-19 millionaires".

The Nation, which broke the story, reported how Kemsa officials handpicked companies and handed them multibillion shillings contracts under the cover of the health crisis, setting the stage for the current scandal at the agency, which has already claimed several officials.

The activists want the Auditor-General to immediately conduct an independent audit of all funds advanced to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to speed up independent investigations on the already suspected cases of corruption at national and county levels.

"The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) should ensure timely prosecution while the Judiciary should facilitate the speedy hearing and determination of these cases so that those found culpable are brought to book," the statement reads, adding that the investigative authorities should set up a live dashboard on the status of all cases relating to Covid-19 corruption so that all Kenyans can monitor the progress.

Freeze accounts

"The Asset Recovery Agency should act within its mandate to freeze accounts of individuals who have [been] irregularly allocated or received Covid-19 tenders and recover all Covid-19 resources that have been stolen," the statement adds.

The joint statement was supported by Amnesty International Kenya, Association of Professional Societies in East Africa (Apsea), the Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG), the Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (Creco), County Governance Watch and the Global Compact Network Kenya among others.

This comes at a time when the opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), is on the receiving end for issuing a statement that appeared to be defending those suspected of stealing Covid-19 funds and dismissing reports that money had been stolen at Kemsa. This is big departure from ODM's previous stance on corruption.

The pressure groups want all government agencies, as a matter of right to information, to proactively publish the names of companies and their beneficial owners and individuals awarded any contracts for Covid-19 related commodities or services and the contract amounts at national and county levels on the Public Procurement Information Portal.

Market price index

They also want the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority to publish a market price index of all essential drugs and commodities required for the management and response to Covid-19 to guide procuring entities on price ceilings and provide safeguards against the inflation of prices.

They want Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to give a full report on counties' preparedness to respond to the Covid-19 Pandemic in terms of availability of "functional" bed capacity, availability of oxygen supplies, PPE and medical professionals available to provide health services to the public.

The pressure group also wants the CS to provide a report on the number of medical practitioners who have been recruited and deployed to the workstations, as advertised, using the funds provided by the World Bank.

In another set of demands, they want the Treasury CS Ukur Yattani to publish detailed expenditure information on all funds advanced for the Covid-19 response efforts through donations, donor grants, loans, salary cuts for civil servants, reallocation of budgets and other sources by all recipient entities, including the national and county governments, and the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund Board.

PPE distribution

They are demanding that the Ministry of Health must provide full disclosure on the distribution of PPE acquired by the government of Kenya, whether purchased or donated, giving full details on the sources and recipients.

All county governments must also publish detailed expenditure information on all resources received to fight the pandemic, the lobby groups say.

"Development partners and international financial institutions must demand that the government publishes full information on the disbursement, allocation and utilisation of all funds advanced as grants or loans," the groups' joint statement reads.

They also want development partners and international financial institutions to make public the grant agreements they have signed with the Kenyan government and other players.

Other organisations that endorsed the statement include the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA Kenya), Katiba Institute, Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Kenya Medical Association (KMA), Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Kenya Union of Clinical Officers and Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya).

The statement was also supported by Mzalendo Trust, the National Association of Clinical Officer Anaesthetists-Kenya (Nacoa-K), National Nurses Association of Kenya, National Taxpayers Association (NTA), NEPOTEHC, Pamoja TB group, Stop TB Partnership-Kenya as well as the Institute for Social Accountability (Tisa).

Others are the Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV & AIDS (KELIN), Transparency International Kenya, White Ribbon Alliance and Wote Youth Development Projects.

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