The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the global economy, causing job losses and the closure of businesses. It is also reducing funds for humanitarian and development aid in Kenya as claims of misuse of the money have erupted.
Records from the National Emergency Response Committee on COVID-19 indicate that Kenya had received donations worth about Sh1.2 billion by August 30, 2020. Most of the donations come in as protective equipment, testing kits and reagents, food, and other medical equipment.
Yet, the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), is embroiled in a scandal over the actual use or spending of the donations. In their own website, KEMSA describes itself as “a specialized Government medical logistics provider for Ministries of Medical Services/Public Health-supported health facilities and programmes in Kenya.” The agency received most of these items for redistribution.
Suspension of KEMSA officials
On August 14, 2020, Jonah Manjari, the CEO of KEMSA and three other officials were suspended to allow investigations. Kembi Gitura, the Chairman of KEMSA Board said the move would allow an audit and give assurance to donors and the public.
Since then, there has been a blame game on who exactly was responsible for the purchase and distribution of the equipment by KEMSA during the pandemic.
On August 20, key donors to KEMSA; USAID and Global Fund wrote to the Ministry of Health demanding for adequate investigations or they suspend funding to other key programmes worth about Sh400 billion.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (or simply the Global Fund) is an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
The fear of losing development aid pushed investigating agencies to begin looking into claims as early as July 2020.
If all claims turn out to be true, the impact of COVID-19 in Kenya may be worse because the government of Kenya might not afford to control it.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said that “our economic health as a country is ultimately tied to keeping our infections and fatalities as low as possible.”
“There will be little tourism, scarce investment and falling trade if our headlines start to match those of countries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” the president said during a press briefing on July 27.
More Hungry Kenyans
Since March 2020, several precautions were taken. These include: closing schools, introducing night curfews, banning inter-county travel, suspending international flights, banning social gatherings as well restricting alcohol sale.
A recent study by Development Initiatives, a UK- based aid data organisation, revealed that the number of hungry Kenyans has increased. The report indicates that as many as 3.6 million people in Kenya may be facing hunger.
The data was gathered before the pandemic escalated, meaning the figures could be higher today. A survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics launched on July 10, 2020, revealed that as many as 7 in 10 Kenyans were struggling to pay their rent and buy food since the disease reached the country.
Beyond individual survival, the pandemic could hurt the government’s own operations. Kenya, like many other Sub-Saharan countries, depends heavily on both humanitarian and development aid.
According to Development Initiatives, allocations to Kenya reached about $1.8 billion in humanitarian assistance, both from individual donors, countries and NGOs.
According to data from the Central Bank of Kenya, at least $6 billion had to be raised externally to finance the budget deficit in the 2020 budget.
Ukur Yatani, Kenya’s Treasury Cabinet Secretary, told Parliament on June 11, 2020, that Kenya would have a fiscal deficit of up to $8.4 billion. He said this during his budget speech, suggesting more reliance on donors to fund the budget.
With COVID-19, this type of gap-filling may be threatened. On July 30, Yatani said he expected Kenyans to continue tightening their belts and live within their means.
NGOs to suffer
The reduction of funds will also increase job losses in both governmental and non-governmental organisations. Stephen Cheboi, Chairman of the National Council of Non-Governmental 0rganisations, said that 80 percent of the organisations’ funding comes from the external donors.
“Most of our members do not have alternative sources of funds except from donations,” he said. “We are developing modalities for local fund-raising,” he added. However, he admitted it could be a tall order.
NGOs in Kenya received $1.7 billion in 2019, an increase of about $200 million from 2018. This is according to the NGO Coordination Board, which regulates these bodies.
For the government, there are poverty-eradication programmes on the line. For example, the Kenya Hunger Safety Net Programme, which has been running since 2013, with a volume of $250 million from the World Bank and a grant of £120,000 from the UK government.
The programme targets households in arid counties. The two donors have not confirmed if they will extend beyond 2020.
There is also the Rural Resilience Initiative, a World Food Programme (WFP) initiative meant to insure farmers since 2011 totalling $1.3 million. The insurance covers crops worth $10 million. The WFP has also not indicated its continuity.
Earlier in April, the UN and Kenya announced a ‘Flash Appeal’ to fight Covid-19, requesting for $265 million to help 10.1 million people deemed most vulnerable. The Appeal, was meant to mobilise funding for NGOs and government departments in Kenya.
Donors change focus
In general, key development donors, like those in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), have had their own domestic struggles. Most of these countries have however indicated that their donor programmes will continue, for now.
But, some have been under pressure to focus on the impact of COVID-19 in their countries first. For example, in April, the Hungarian government announced it would cut budgetary allocation for its key development aid programme Hungary Helps for 2020.
Sweden, one of the key donors to the World Health Organisation, said it could maintain development assistance for this year at 1 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In April 2020, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, one of the key founding members of — and the largest donor to — the World Health Organization (WHO), announced its intention to freeze its funding for the agency, pending a review of WHO actions during the coronavirus pandemic.
What journalists should do:
- Follow up investigations into alleged misuse of money meant for controlling the spread of COVID-19.
- Analyse the expenditure of funds received as grants or loans for the COVID-19 emergency.
- Report on actual communities benefiting from emergency donations such as informal settlements and the poor in arid and semi-arid regions.
- Keep track of who is funding what and when to note any repetitions of funding or omissions.
- Report on local initiatives launched to help the poor during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Follow up keenly on reports from the office of the Controller of Budgets, the office of the Auditor General and articles published on the RoGGKenya website.
By Aggrey Mutambo