A procurement manager at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) has confessed shadowy officials he referred to as the "deep state" threatened they would make his boss, Jonah Manjari, disappear if they did not secure multibillion-shilling Covid-19 contracts.
As a result of the intimidation, suspended Kemsa procurement manager Charles Juma told MPs, the shadowy officials got tenders worth Sh2.1 billion, which were given to eight companies that did not go through the procurement process.
Mr Juma told the National Assembly Public Investments Committee (PIC) that Mr Manjari, the then Kemsa chief executive, informed him that he was under pressure from "deep state" operatives, who insisted that certain companies must be awarded tenders even if they are not prequalified.
According to Mr Juma, letters to the eight companies were issued by Mr Manjari, who ignored and did not consult with the procurement department as is the norm with other companies.
"The CEO told us that the deep state had threatened him that if he does not serve their interests, he will be made to disappear," Mr Juma narrated to the committee chaired by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir.
He informed the committee that the suspended CEO was a man under pressure and at one time confessed to him that there were highly placed people who had warned him against going against their wishes.
"You don't sit in this office and thus you do not know what I am going through. I'm under pressure to act in a particular way," Mr Manjari reportedly told Mr Juma.
Documents tabled before the committee indicate the companies that won tenders cumulatively worth Sh2.1 billion, in complete disregard of the law, include Regal Freighters, Northlink GSC Ltd, Meraky Healthcare, Everywhere Distributors, La Miguela Holdings Ltd, Shop 'N' Buy Ltd, Medlife Biological Ltd and Komtel Kenya Ltd.
According to the commitment letters, Regal Freighters won a tender to supply facemasks worth Sh270 million, Northlink GSC got tenders worth Sh135 million, Meraky Healthcare (Sh140 million), Everywhere Distributors (Sh118 million), La Miguela Holdings (Sh180 million), Shop 'N' Buy (900 million), Medlife Biological got a tender worth Sh90 million, while Komtel Kenya was awarded a Sh283 million tender.
Cannot be touched
"I was told some of the companies cannot be touched because the owners have influence at the Ministry of Health," said Mr Juma.
The name of Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja was also dragged into the scandal, after Mr Juma claimed that on the day Mr Manjari ordered a commitment letter be issued to Shop 'N' Buy, the lawmaker was in the CEO's office.
"On the day the CEO directed the secretary to give a commitment letter to Shop 'N' Buy, he found Mr Sakaja in the CEO's office," Mr Juma told MPs.
It is not clear what the two were discussing as the senator is not listed among the directors of the company, according to the CR12 tabled before the committee. The CR12 is an official communication from the Registrar of Companies, showing who the directors and shareholders of a firm are.
Maragwa MP Mary Wa Maua said the committee needs to check the CR12s of all the eight companies.
"We need to have CR12s for these companies to know whether Sakaja is a director or not, because it seems there are big names whose commitment letters were issued on the direction of the CEO," said Ms Maua.
However, the mention of "deep state" stirred interest with Mr Nassir as well as members Paul Katana and TJ Kajwang' demanding answers as to who the witness meant by "deep state".
"Why are you speaking now and not then when you were still in office and all this was happening?" Mr Kajwang' asked.
Mr Juma also claimed that the former CEO threatened him into signing commitment letters for other companies that were not among those pre-qualified to supply materials to Kemsa.
When he would refuse or question the issuance of the letters, Mr Juma said Mr Manjari would direct the procurement manager's secretary to issue the commitment letters.
He further told MPs that all companies that were going to Kemsa to pick their commitment letters went straight into the CEOs office and not the procurement office.
Things fall apart
"Things started falling apart at Kemsa in April because commitment letters were being issued from the CEO's office and not my office. If I had been given the opportunity to manage the procurement, nothing would have gone wrong. But the procurement process was hijacked by the CEO," said Mr Juma.
MPs, however, put Mr Juma to task on why he continued to issue commitment letters even after surpassing the budget and despite a management meeting held in April that stopped any further issuance of commitment letters.
"Your office continued to issue commitment letters contrary to the resolution of the management meeting. Why did you allow yourself to be used as a conduit to aid an illegality?" asked the Mr Nassir.
Mr Juma said that on diverse dates between April and May, he issued four memos to the management, saying there is no need to proceed with further purchase of Covid-19 materials as they had enough stock, but he was ignored.
"My advice was to put on hold procurement of Covid materials because we had adequate stock and therefore, did not need any emergency procurement," Mr Juma said.