Kenya: Lives at Risk as Kemsa Probe Puts Brakes on Drug Supplies

(file photo).
20 September 2020

Failure by the government to buy essential medical supplies due to the ongoing corruption investigations is putting millions of lives at risk, health professionals warn.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) officials took all the records at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) and stopped payments almost two weeks ago.

Consequently, no procurement is ongoing at Kemsa as key workers are being investigated for corruption.

The Sunday Nation has learnt that cancer, diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, stomach ulcers, and malaria drugs are almost running out of stock. It is the case with painkillers too.

Medicines for mental disorders are missing. Sources at Kemsa told the Sunday Nation that the stocks available may not last a month.

Scarcity of medicines

"The warehouse is almost empty and I am afraid we may not be in a position to give Kenyans the much-needed medicines," a worker at Kemsa said.

"The longer the investigations take, the longer Kenyans will miss vital medical services."

The country has been grappling with scarcity of medicines, vaccines and pharmaceutical products, a situation now made worse by the ongoing investigations.

Contacted, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said he would not give any direction on drugs and medical supplies until the Kemsa investigations are complete.

"You might want to do the right thing but one cannot tell what will follow. Let us give the investigators time to complete their work," the minister said.

Kemsa has been on the spot for weeks following reports of the purchase of Covid-19 items at grossly exaggerated prices.

The country may have lost billions of shillings in the scandal.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji indicated in a Friday letter that the public will be made aware of the progress of the investigations in two weeks.

He said he has been given key information on the progress of the investigations.

"I have today received a duplicate inquiry file on the irregular procurement and fraudulent payments in relation to the purchase and supply of Covid-19 emergency commodities at Kemsa that led to the irregular expenditure of Sh7.8 billion for perusal and directions," Mr Haji said.

"I have appointed a team of senior experienced prosecutors to undertake an independent and comprehensive review of the inquiry file and submit their findings to me, after which, I will make a decision and inform the public of the progress in 14 days."

Officials suspended

The Sunday Nation broke the story of Kemsa officials handpicking companies and awarding them multibillion-shilling contracts, citing the health crisis.

The government acted fast and suspended several top Kemsa officials.

President Uhuru Kenyatta gave the Ministry of Health 30 days to establish a mechanism for Kemsa tenders to be published online, saying doing so would expose the billionaires running Afya House and revolutionise procurement in public service.

He said publishing Covid-19 procurement information, including winners of tenders, would be a measure of transparency.

It would enhance the highest level scrutiny at all units of public administration and improve management of resources for the good of the country, he said, adding Kenyans have a right to know-how funds are used.

"I direct the Ministry of Health to come up with a transparent, open method and mechanism through which tenders and procurement by Kemsa are available online," the President said.

"We want to see who has been awarded a tender, the value of the tender, what it was for and how it was evaluated."

The Kemsa Board suspended the agency's chief executive Jonah Manjari as investigations into the scandal began.

Other top bureaucrats shown the door are commercial director Eliud Muriithi and his procurement counterpart Charles Juma.

The suspended officials, together with Kemsa Board chairman Kembi Gitura, have appeared before the Senate and National Assembly committees to shed light on the scandal.

Mr Gitura has promised to cooperate with the EACC and other State agencies investigating the theft.

Police and detectives from the EACC raided Kemsa offices and took files away.

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