Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has vowed to disband a cartel, which he says has hampered efforts to fight corruption in the ministry.
The CS believes a group of individuals has managed to infiltrate the justice system to retain control of strategic positions to manage billions of shillings in the ministry.
Speaking to Nation on Monday, Mr Kagwe questioned why some employees who are transferred to other departments go to court to challenge their deployment.
“You have gone to court because you do not want to be moved from your seat, what is so important in this seat? You are still in the ministry and not a sweeper somewhere. Why go to court?” he posed.
He went on: “I am not a lawyer, but I believe there is something strange and odd in these kinds of decisions. What would prevent a judge being transferred by Chief Justice from citing the case of the Ministry of Health?” he posed. “Few individuals will not stop the reform process in the ministry.”
The Ministry of Health, he said, deals with crucial matters and hence the need for urgent reforms.
“The issue of health is so personal that we cannot take chances, this is an issue of dealing with old people, children and mothers giving birth. If people are sick and cannot get medicine and there are delays because of corruption, I am not retreating.”
He said he was “building a team of trusted people, who are against corruption”.
“The future is bright. I am convinced I am going to do it,” Mr Kagwe said.
He cited a case in which a stranger walked into the ministry’s board room, struck a deal and signed a contract.
“Where on earth except in the movies does something like this happen,” he posed.
The CS said he had witnessed many strange happenings at Afya House.
“You work for the Ministry of Health and you are supposed to be paid a stipend but you only get paid when you pay someone in the ministry. Some people working here have no other job apart from collecting vouchers and they are paid. Isn’t this strange?” he said.
The CS said he faced resistance when he introduced identification pass to access Afya House.
“When I introduced get job identity cards, which staff must swipe when entering the building, there was resistance because people were used to walking in and out of the building,” he said.
What was it like taking over the Ministry of Health in times of a health pandemic?
This has been a very steep blind curve, day and night, and no time to relax.
I was barely a month old in the post when the pandemic was recorded in other parts of the world. I was just reading about a mysterious disease in China but I started looking at the details to understand what this disease was all about.
However, when I went for the nomination, I told them that a lot of our attention was going to be drawn by the disease in the future. It came to pass and in the last 100 days, we have been combating an invisible enemy.
How do you manage the attention that you receive and the responsibility of keeping the nation informed on the pandemic?
I believe in operating on the principle that always be on your feet and never mind what you are going to be faced with. Life is not a straight run and we should always be prepared for certain challenges and eventualities.
This is not a small challenge and I cannot manage it on my own, I have a strong team and the government took it as its responsibility. I rely on Kenyans in different sectors that look at various scenarios.
They are the ones I listen to and they advise on decisions that need to be made. This is not a one person affair, I am just the manager of the system. I do not just operate as the Cabinet Secretary of Health but also as chair of the National Emergency Response Committee team made up of many people.
Are you frustrated with the laxity among Kenyans in observing the preventive guidelines against Covid-19?
Yes, I am frustrated. When we think about the first cases that we had in the country, for instance in Kilifi, people were not observing the measures and you can clearly trace the disease to the individuals who were not disciplined enough.
Clearly, it is frustrating. However, the scary part is the realisation that this is not the only pandemic that we’re going to face, there could be others. You then realise the importance of discipline to tackle our challenges.
There is a big disconnect between what should be as far as discipline in society is concerned and what I am seeing among Kenyans. I am disturbed since this calls for a personal responsibility.
Kenyans injected humour into your serious briefings with funny memes and video clips. What did you think of that?
I laugh like everybody else. I sing along. I go to hotels and order Mutahi Kagwe special (a drink and two sausages). If you can’t beat them join them.
We have such difficult challenges and life is so bad at the moment for a lot of people. Some humour helps and if I can help in that, I have absolutely no regret at all.
Kenyans, I must admit, are very creative and in the humour, there is also a lot of seriousness. You get people talking about it and the message is getting deeper and deeper. Some of them had very strong messages such as, “If you can get it, I can get it” song. This is a strong message to Kenyans. I am happy to be part of the song composition.
You said you have taken on a brave mission to rid the ministry of cartels. How is it going?
In addition to my political career, I have been in management. This is what I do best and the rule of the thumb is first to identify whether you have a problem and how to tackle it.
Saying that there are no cartels in Afya House is deceiving and I am not in the business of deceiving myself. The first thing I acknowledged when I got to Afya House was that there are cartels.
The kind of things that were going on there and are still going on there are very strange. I have now zeroed in on what the issues are. I am now unravelling them and making decisions.
Do you think you will succeed in this? Others have not been so successful in fighting corruption in the ministry.
I am determined. I knew what I was getting myself into and slowly but surely, I will manage.
What other plans do you have to address the health concerns of Kenyans post the pandemic, on mitigating the impact of diseases such as cancer, HIV and more?
What I have done in the past 100 days? We have delegated duties. When I started giving the pressers (press conferences), I was alone but now we have developed a structure where it has become a rounded approach by the ministry so that there are other people taking other responsibilities while focusing on other issues. There are reforms in other departments, including health provision, which are being addressed.
This is not a ministry of corona. However, it has just happened that the virus is the one that is most challenging right now. Other diseases are being taken care of. With coronavirus, we have also seen some gains particularly on prevention and these rotate around hygiene. People are not getting sick.
What inspires and motivates you in your work? Any values you believe in?
I naturally want to try and get things done. This is my nature, more so when it concerns people. I am highly driven to improve people’s lives and make it better.
When I was young, I was a scout leader and I formed a group in the village that used to go and cultivate for old ladies. Trying to improve people’s lives is something I feel very deeply.
My logic has always been that life has no rehearsal. It is now or never. There is a purpose for each one of us and if we play a role of making people’s lives slightly better, then we would all benefit substantially.
What is Kenya’s strategy for fighting Covid-19, are we succeeding or failing?
I think we are succeeding because when you look at the global trends at this time, after 100 days, and look at this in terms of fatality rate and number of positive cases, it tells you how effective we have been. To the extent that the country has lost a few people and we are continuing, this is a success. This is a battle and we are preparing for the war.
Has this pandemic exposed the vagaries of devolving health and is there a rethink?
This is the right time for devolution. I have seen it working, for in Mombasa County, which has been extremely effective in managing the virus. Where the county governments have not been as effective, the challenges have been much bigger for the Ministry of Health.