Officials of the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) were Tuesday chased away by the Senate Health Committee for failing to provide documents on alleged procurement irregularities at the medicine supplier.
The furious committee members led by stand-in Chairperson Mary Seneta threatened to invoke Chapter 19 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act, which imposes fines and sanctions.
The law states that any witness who fails to appear before a committee or appears but fails to provide required documents shall be fined Sh500,000 and a jail term of three months.
The virtual meeting, which was supposed to discuss the irregularities in the procurement of Covid-19 equipment, ended prematurely after senators argued that it was impossible to tell if the evidence presented by Kemsa CEO Jonah Manjari, who was the key witness, was legitimate or forged.
In the letter to Kemsa requesting for documents, the committee said it had learnt of various allegations of procurement irregularities at the agency for the financial years 2017/2018 and 2019/2020.
"The committee has further taken note of numerous concerns raised by county governments and health workers' unions regarding the quality and cost of goods supplied by Kemsa in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs)," the letter reads in part.
It asked Kemsa to submit certified copies of all procurement records in respect of financial year 2017/2018 to 2019/2020. Among the documents sought are requests from the user departments, authority letters, original tender documents, tender advertisement notices and lists of all bidders.
Other are all bids submitted by bidders, tender opening minutes, tender evaluation minutes, due diligence reports, professional opinions, tender award notifications and regrets as well as acceptance letters from the winning bidders.
Kemsa was also supposed to submit contract agreements, inspection and acceptance certificates and payment vouchers among others.
The committee also wanted several documents relating to the procurement of goods and services for the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Kemsa provided only details on Covid-19 procurement, which the committee said was “a big joke” and that the agency’s officials did not respect the sitting.
During the chaotic online meeting, it also emerged that Kemsa CEO had reached out privately to the chairman of the Senate Health Committee investigating the scam, Mr Michael Mbito, and cut a deal on when to present the documents to the chagrin of the rest of the members.
But members could hear none of it, arguing that such a private meeting “over a cup of tea” should not be dragged in front of the sitting.
“If the CEO and the chair had a meeting and discussed their issues over a cup of tea, that should not be brought to this committee. All we want is the authority to provide us with all the documents that we requested for. It should not waste our time,” said Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina.
DOCUMENTS TOO BULKY
Dr Manjari tried explaining to the members that some of the documents requested were too bulky and would require more time to present, and that is why he reached out to the chairman privately to buy more time.
The meeting had to be ended prematurely as the senators retreated to consider the sanctions to impose on Kemsa officials for not submitting all the relevant tender documents as requested.
It is required that witnesses present documents and written statements in advance before appearing for a parliamentary probe.
“It is always a requirement that prior to appearing before a committee, you must have submitted the documents in advance and now that the authority has decided to choose what they send to us and what to retain, we do not have business holding this meeting until they provide the necessary documents,” said Nominated Senator Everlyne Kwamboka.
This comes at a time when top executives at Kemsa are recording statements with the anti-corruption watchdog, which is conducting a separate investigation into a drugs scandal that is unfolding at the agency.
The procurement mess at Kemsa is putting lives of ordinary Kenyans at risk after officials dished out tenders to mysterious entities under the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Theft of donor money meant for drugs has reached record-breaking proportions at the Ministry of Health, as Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has publicly admitted.
Dr Manjari is among is among those who have been questioned by EACC.
The Nation Investigations desk is in the possession of an internal memo that has given a rare peek into the procurement mess at the agency, which has put at risk over Sh100 billion donor funds and billions of shillings in taxpayers’ money.
In the memo, Procurement Director Charles Juma raises a storm over Covid-19 purchasing that was messed up by Dr Manjari.
Mr Juma notes that he had scrutinised and analysed various commitment letters issued to suppliers of Covid-19 items and their delivery timelines, and in his verdict, the blame lays squarely on the doorstep of Dr Manjari.
The procurement boss argues that all purchases must be undertaken within an approved budget in line with the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act.
He accuses Dr Manjari of issuing commitment letters amounting to Sh7.6 billion against an approved budget of Sh4.6 billion.
He says this decision alone saw Kemsa exceed its approved budget by Sh3billion. However, that was not the worst of the crimes.
Mr Juma notes that the law only allows for direct procurement as long as the purpose is not to avoid competition. Given the emergency of Covid-19, he says the agency would only have bought enough kits to meet the short-term needs as it embarked on a proper procurement process to ensure Kenyans get value for money.
The goods procured directly should also be ex-stock and should only be delivered within a month.
The Nation exclusively reported how an audit by donors had unearthed procurement and financial irregularities at the State corporation, putting at risk over Sh100 billion of donor funds.
The special audit conducted from October 2019 by the Global Fund and USAID recommended an overhaul of the entire procurement system at Kemsa.
It also called for a new accountability system that has an end-to-end supply chain visibility platform installed to prevent losses and wastage.
In one of the most disturbing finding of the review, it has emerged that despite being given the monopoly to sell exclusively to government agencies, Kemsa has been overcharging counties by up to 77 per cent for some essential drugs.
Reporting by Paul Wafula, Angela Oketch and Samuel Owino