Health PS Susan Mochache during grilling by National Assembly Health committee on the status and funding of COVID-19 pandemic.Picture: Ministry of Health

Covid-19 : Where Did the Money Go?  

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The reported misappropriation of the coronavirus money at the Health ministry and counties has sparked anger and questions on the prudent use of the fund. Many Kenyans are in the dark when it comes to the people behind the firms fleecing taxpayers’ and donor money.

Political Analyst Dismas Mokua said there is need for the Health ministry to disclose individuals doing business with the government during this pandemic.

“We are told that one of the reasons why the government cannot do enough tests is shortage of testing kits. Then we’re told that Sh70 million were used for communication,” Mokua said. Referring to the PR work and production of adverts.

The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act 2015 requires suppliers to a public entity to be made public. This also applies to direct procurement during emergencies in order to avoid the lengthy process.

“We want to know the Public Relations company doing the communications productions and who went with the Sh70 million. Media houses have been giving coronavirus communications airtime pro bono,” Mokua said.

 

Misuse of the coronavirus fund

 

The ministry has also been in the spotlight for spending Sh4 million on tea and snacks, Sh2 million on airtime and Sh42 million on leasing ambulances.

The ministry’s budget document seen and reported by local media revealed that the expenditures were part of the Sh1 billion donated by the World Bank for coronavirus emergency response. Other funds were from the Treasury.

The document stated that Sh1.3 billion had already been spent by the end of April against the ministry’s approved budget of Sh976.8 million. Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Mutahi Kagwe tabled the document in the National Assembly’s Health Committee late last April.

The Kenya National Union of Nurses chairman Seth Panyako expressed disappointment over the ministry’s alleged misappropriation of coronavirus funds.

“It is sad that our frontline medics lack adequate Personal Protective Equipment yet some people at the ministry can spend Sh4 million on tea and snacks,” Panyako said.

The donation was given to the country under the Kenya COVID-19 Emergency Response Project to procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), medicines and setting up isolation facilities. This was immediately after Kenya confirmed the first coronavirus case in mid-March.  

Health Principal Secretary (PS) Susan Mochache, was however quick to deny the misappropriation of the money. She also said that only part of World Bank’s Sh1 billion had been received by the ministry.

 

Absence of an Auditor General

 

This was after President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 1 assured Kenyans that a thorough audit would be done “publicly” on the expenditures of coronavirus funds.

However, the absence of an auditor general in office for almost nine months now continues to hamper crucial audits. (RoGGkenya reported earlier ).

It is still unclear who will sanction the audit into the expenditures of COVID-19 funds at the Health ministry and at county levels as promised by President Kenyatta.

Article 229 of the Constitution explains the creation of the auditor general’s office, his roles of auditing all money spent from public coffers, the timeline of carrying out audits and submitting the reports to parliament.

Political analyst Mokua attributed the reported misuse of funds at the Health ministry to “so much confusion” at Afya House between the CS and PS  reading from different scripts.

“Kenya is one of the countries which have been given resources to fight COVID-19. However, instead of helping the citizens, it is said to be disappearing into personal pockets,” Mokua said.

The World Bank on April 2, 2020, approved an additional Sh5 billion “immediate funding” to Kenya to combat the coronavirus.

“This new fast track facility will assist Kenya in its efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by the coronavirus and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness,” the World Bank Country Director for Kenya Carlos Jaramillo said in a statement.

The World Bank’s Kenya Covid-19 Emergency Response Project targets all counties seeking to benefit infected persons and populations at risk. It also benefits medical and emergency staff, medical and testing facilities, and the national health agencies.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on May 2 also approved a Sh78.3 billion (USD739 million) loan for Kenya to help address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenya has a tradition of misappropriating emergency response funds for crisis.

For instance, in 2015 the government’s budget was in the spotlight during El Niño rains for planning to spend Sh35.5 million to buy 1000 bar soaps for affected Kenyans.  Each bar soap was billed Sh37, 500 though the retail price in supermarkets is less than ksh200.

 

Breakdown of the budget

 

The Health ministry’s suspicious budgets revealed that the 15 procured ambulances cost Sh2.8 million each and a sum of Sh10.1 million was budgeted for snacks.

Sh6 million were budgeted for airtime for 500 critical staff where each officer was to get Sh4, 000 per month for three months.

Further, Sh9 million were spent on printing of travellers quarantine and discharge forms from an initial budget of Sh900, 000.

Sh70 million were spent on communication, Sh14.4million on fuelling and maintaining 30 vehicles, while Sh40, 000 were spent every week in running each vehicle.

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) under the Health ministry spent Sh277.9 million in procuring Personal Protective Equipment. (Suits, facemasks and gloves protecting the health workers from infections)

Sh6.5 million were spent on printing papers above the ministry’s Sh2.5 million approved budget. Sh11.8 million were used to procure and install call centres for grievances and complaints.

Moreover, Sh2 million of Sh13.5 million budget had been spent on accommodation for 30 healthcare workers, who needed quarantine services for 90 days.

“The World Bank gave us this money. It should therefore ensure that strict procurement procedures are followed and no money goes into people’s pockets,” Mokua said.

The Health ministry is not the only government institution that has been put on the spot over the embezzling of COVID-19 funds.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is investigating Bungoma County for procuring 600 jerricans (containing 20 litres) at Sh10, 000 each.

Although Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati argued that the jerricans were “donated”, he declined to name the donors.

However, EACC’s probe established that Sh6.9 million used to pay the suppliers were withdrawn from the county’s bank account.

This misuse of funds prompted EACC to pursue other counties with suspicious procurements.

 

Flouting of Procurement laws

 

The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act 2015 outlines various provisions to guide the process of awarding public tenders to ensure transparency and adherence to the law.

For instance, Act 103 on Direct Procurement, Clause 2 (e) demands a procuring entity to ensure the price of goods and services is “fair and reasonable”, after comparing with existing prices.

“A public officer who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) commits an offence,” reads Clause 3.

CS Kagwe has transferred 30 Health ministry procurement officers behind the suspicious COVID-19 budgets.

“How can officers implicated with misuse of public funds be redeployed to another place? That’s transferring a problem. They should be investigated and those found culpable dismissed,” The Kenya National Union of Nurses chairman Panyako said.

Most State institutions have been caught flouting procurement laws especially, Acticle 59 which bars a public officer from awarding tenders to “him/herself, his/her spouse or child, a business associate or agent”.

It also forbids the public officer from awarding the tender to a corporation, private company, partnership or other bodies where the officer yields some influence or interest.

The media, therefore, is required to establish the identity and connections of individuals and firms awarded public tenders during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will ensure the procurement law is observed and public officers don’t enrich themselves.

In December 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked the Attorney General’s office to fast track the drafting and submission of The Conflict of Interest Bill 2019.The bill contains stiffer provisions restricting public officers including elected and nominated from doing business with the government.

 

What journalists should do:

 

  1. Access and scrutinize itemised budgets for COVID-19 response both at national and county levels and inform the public.
  2. Establish if the procurement laws are observed including prices of purchased goods and services.
  3. Reveal the identity of individuals and firms awarded the tenders, and expose public officers flouting the procurement laws to enrich themselves. Information about business names for individuals and firms can be found at the Office of the Registrar of Companies.
  4. Look at what the Procurement Act and other relevant laws say about public officers, individuals or firms found culpable of breaking the law.
  5. Always follow up on investigations of cases of misappropriation cases are COVID-19 funds to ensure the culprits prosecuted.

 

By Samuel Kisika