NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 29 – Three senior officials at the Ministry of Health exerted pressure on Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), making numerous requests including an in person visit to prevail upon the agency’s executives to expedite the award of tenders for procurement of COVID-19 supplies.
Suspended KEMSA Chief Executive Officer Jonah Manjari told a joint Senate Health and Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 that he received requests from Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, Principal Secretary Susan Mochache and an official heading a response unit only identified as Brigadier.
Manjari said he did not act on instructions of the Kembi Gitura-led board.
“There were requests from CS Kagwe, PS Mochache and a Brigadier. They, at one point, came to KEMSA and we were told we needed to respond or else they’ll take over the warehouse,” he said in response to a questioned posed by Senator Samson Cherargei.
Manjari was tasked by the joint committee to explain an expenditure totaling Sh7.6 million without clearance from the KEMSA board.
He said there was immense pressure to make procurement for COVID-19 supplies.
“We had very few suppliers with the capacity to supply the N95 masks but we entered into an agreement that they supply them in July. At the time, their prices had increased tremendously,” Manjari told senators.
The suspended executive was appearing before the joint committee a week after skipping a scheduled session. His representative told the Senate on August 21 that the CEO was hospitalized at Kenyatta National Hospital hence his inability to honour the committee invitation.
Manjari was suspended by the KEMSA board on August 14 alongside Eliud Muriithi (Commercial Director) and Charles Juma (Procurement Director) to pave way for a probe by the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC).
The suspensions followed reports of mismanagement of monies appropriated to support efforts to combat coronavirus.
An exposé aired on Nation Television also suggested supplies donated by Chinese business magnate Jack Ma had been diverted from KEMSA warehouses and sold to private firms in a neighbouring country.
The matter sparked widespread public anger.
The political class has also clashed publicly on the matter, Deputy President William Ruto laughing off a proposal for a special audit by the Orange Democratic Movement led by opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The Odinga-led party had argued that the Office of the Auditor General should first examine KEMSA accounts before EACC begins its probe.
President Uhuru Kenyatta waded into the debate on Thursday when he issued a national address saying he expected investigation to be concluded in twenty-one days.