The controversial Sh1.7 billion AAR Kenya City Hall staff medical insurance scheme has reared its ugly head again with the media being ejected from a watchdog committee sitting probing the scandal.
Division emerged among the committee members after journalists were asked to leave the Nairobi County Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting.
Nairobi acting County Secretary Leboo Morintat on Monday called for the media to be kicked out of the meeting.
The committee is grilling more than seven members of the county executive regarding their role in the contentious Sh1.7 billion medical insurance.
Nairobi County government is on the spot for paying more than Sh652 million in excess of the medical scheme’s contract term of Sh1.07 billion.
According to the Auditor General’s report for the financial year ending June 30, 2018, City Hall made a total payment of Sh1.73 billion to AAR Insurance Kenya Limited although the contract sum was Sh1.07 billion.
“Although the total payment made so far to AAR Insurance Kenya Limited is Sh1, 725, 488, 939, no explanation has been given for paying Sh652, 786, 602 in excess of the contract sum of Sh1, 072, 702, 337,” read in part the report.
In addition, a comparison of the annual contract sum shows unexplained growth in value of the insurance cover even though there was decline in the number of staff by 402 during the year under review.
In financial year ending June 30, 2016, the number of employees were 13, 348 with the contract value of Sh346.3 million, the same for 2016/2017 which had 13, 097 employees.
In the financial year ending June 20, 2018, the contract sum for the medical insurance scheme shot up to Sh1.1 billion although the number of employees had reduced to 12, 695. Currently, the county has 12, 499 staff.
In July, the acting county secretary asked for the media to leave the committee sitting before he could answer any queries regarding the controversial AAR medical cover. The request was also granted.
Most members of the committee, five out of six, protested the request to send the media out. Despite the opposition, the chair of the committee Wilfred Odalo granted Mr Morintat his wish. Only Kilimani MCA Moses Ogeto supported the move.
Minority Whip Peter Imwatok and Karen MCA David Mberia said it was frivolous for the executive to call for exclusion of the media with no justifiable reasons.
“Throwing the media out will paint the county in bad light as this is not the first time this officer has done this. The public will not forgive this committee if this will be the trend,” said Mr Imwatok.
“There is nothing to hide as we are discussing matters of public concern. This is the second time this officer is making the request,” said Mr Mberia.
Sarang’ombe MCA Lawrence Otieno and his Ngei counterpart Redson Otieno agreed with Mr Imwatok.
Mr Otieno said: “The media has to stay because the public wants to know how their money was spent. Why is the member afraid of the media when he appears before us?”
The exclusion of the media from the committee sitting came after intense lobby to have the committee cancel the sitting failed.
The session, which was to start at 10.30am, was suspended for several hours only to start at 1pm.
Interestingly, only ODM-allied members of the committee were present at the meeting. Their Jubilee counterparts who had come for the sitting left.
One of the Jubilee MCAs told the Nation that they had been threatened by their party leadership that they would be de-whipped if they attended the sitting.
“We have been told not to attend the session and those who dare will be de-whipped from committees,” said the MCA who did not want to be identified for fear of victimisation.
The committee has lately been under pressure for unearthing malpractices at the executive and their hard hitting reports with members being accused of colluding with the media to expose Governor Mike Sonko’s administration.
Mr Leboo has been cited by the committee as a ‘malicious’ witness for repeatedly failing to appear before it.
This prompted the committee to invite him and six other officers.
The AAR cover has come under scrutiny since the deal was signed with former Governor Evans Kidero’s administration in 2015.
The firm has been earning between Sh1.06 billion and Sh1.3 billion every year.
The firm’s contract with the county government was to end on June 30, 2017, but Governor Sonko administration extended it by three months to allow time for procurement.
This led to outcry from a section of the MCAs with a case ending in court.
In January this year, Kenya County Government Workers Union raised alarm over lack of medical cover following revelations that county staff had stopped receiving the insurer’s services from December 31, 2018.