Kenya: How One Firm Won Sh1.3 Billion Kemsa Tender in a Day

25 February 2021

As lovers were celebrating Valentine's Day on February 14, 2020, Mr James Cheluley was registering a company that would later win a Sh1.3 billion tender for the supply of Personal Protective Equipment to the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa).

Mr Cheluley, the director of Shop 'N' Buy Company, yesterday told a parliamentary committee how he walked into the office of suspended Kemsa CEO Jonah Manjari on April 29 with a letter of intent to supply PPEs and was handed a commitment letter for a tender worth Sh1.3 billion the following day.

He denied that his company was linked to Deputy President William Ruto and Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja.

"I have been associated with big politicians and it is unfair. I have seen reports that the Deputy President supported me just because we come from the same tribe. The DP did not support me. I'm the one behind this company," Mr Cheluley told MPs led by committee chairman Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita).

"We have been in business even before the onset of Covid-19. If you walk into our offices now, you can buy PPE and hospital beds. It was only a coincidence that we traded with Kemsa," Mr Cheluley added.

Commitment letter

"This is the first time the name of the Deputy President has been mentioned before this committee and it has not come from us. It has come from you," Mr Nassir told the witness.

Ms Pamela Kaburu, who is the secretary of suspended procurement manager Charles Juma, had earlier told the same committee that Mr Manjari made her to backdate a commitment letter for Shop 'N' Buy from May 8 to April 30 and deliver it to the CEO's office.

She testified that when she took the backdated commitment letter to the CEO's office, she found Mr Manjari with Mr Sakaja.

The National Assembly Public Investment Committee probing the utilisation of Sh7.8 billion of Covid-19 funds is now struggling to unravel if there was a powerful person that helped Mr Cheluley's little-known company to secure the multimillion-shilling tender.

Yesterday, MPs said it was not possible for a two-month-old company to just walk into Kemsa offices and get a Sh1.3 billion tender within 24 hours.

"Maybe people like you pray differently because you cannot just walk into Kemsa and walk out with over a billion shilling tender," Mr Nassir said.

Faceless individuals

"I had written three letters before and all were rejected then in April I went to Kemsa with a letter of intent to supply PPE and was given a commitment letter to supply," Mr Cheluley answered the MPs.

Despite pressure from MPs that he reveals the faceless individuals behind the company, Mr Cheluley remained adamant that he is the sole owner of the company and nobody assisted him in getting the tender.

The committee resolved to write a letter to Mr Cheluley's banks -- Diamond Trust Bank and Middle East Bank -- just to confirm if there are other signatories to the company's accounts.

"It is impossible to do all these things within 24 hours without having a powerful person behind you," said Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang'.

Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris said despite her social status, she cannot get an appointment with a parastatal CEO within hours, hence Mr Cheluley must have been sent by someone.

Mandera East MP Omar Mohammed wondered how other reputable companies with over 30 years' experience in the supply of medical equipment were sidestepped.

"This company was purposefully registered for Covid-19. In a normal world, you can't register a company today and tomorrow you are awarded a tender worth Sh1.3 billion," Mr Mohamed said.

Mr Cheluley said his company should instead be applauded for its swift delivery of PPE. He told the committee to hasten investigations so that he can be paid.

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