A company associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s close relatives, which has been named in the Sh5.2 billion Afya House scandal, was listed in the Treasury’s roll of companies that should get preferential treatment for tenders reserved for the youth, women and the disabled.
Sundales International Limited, whose directors include the President’s sister Nyokabi Kenyatta Muthama, and cousin Kathleen Kihanya, is named at number 1,790 on the Public Procurement Oversight Authority’s (PPOA) 2014 roll of “Disadvantaged Groups” that should receive preferential treatment when they bid for tenders.
President Kenyatta directed in 2013 that 30 per cent of all government tenders should be allocated to the youth, women and disabled people.
But the inclusion of Sundales – which was incorporated in September 2013 and has accumulated an impressive portfolio of multimillion-shilling government tenders – will raise eyebrows.
That the firm is owned by the President’s sister and Ms Kihanya, who was a major figure in the corporate world as the head of sales and marketing at Mumias Sugar Company before quitting to run Mr Kenyatta’s presidential campaign in 2002, raises questions about the eligibility of the company for preferential treatment, which should be given to disadvantaged groups in bidding for tenders.
Sundales has attracted intense attention since an internal audit queried the expenditure of Sh5.2 billion in the ministry of Health, including hundreds of millions of shillings that were to be spent on the free maternity care programme.
Sundales was paid Sh41 million as part-payment for several tenders it won for supplies to the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority. The other director of the firm is named as Samson Kamiri.
On Saturday, Ms Kihanya strongly denied claims that the firm had won the tender due to influence-peddling.
At a brief press conference, Ms Kihanya blamed Cord leader Raila Odinga for what she said was condemning her and her company.
She said she was ready to be investigated but argued that Mr Odinga’s utterances at a press conference on Friday in which he said the Sh5.2 billion scam was “President Kenyatta’s scandal” were “defamatory and grievous.”
“For someone to cast doubt on our integrity for unnecessary political mileage and exciting the public on false allegations is totally unacceptable especially when it is a person of Raila’s standing,” she said.
“We call for relevant investigative bodies to prioritise this investigation, and get to the bottom of it with the urgency required,” Ms Kihanya said.
Contacted by the Sunday Nation to inquire on why the firm was considered one of the disadvantaged small and medium enterprises that should benefit from government tenders, she said they were legitimately named to the roll because they are women.
“Are you serious you are asking me about that? Are you aware of AGPO (Access to Government Procurement Opportunities) for women, youth and other disadvantaged groups like the disabled? We fit in that category,” she said.
However, Public Accounts Committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo said the law was expressly targeted to benefit those that do not occupy high stations in society.
“What will underprivileged women in the villages do if such powerful people are the ones landing these tenders? That is not the purpose for which this initiative was launched to serve.” said the MP.
The Public Procurement and Disposal Act defines “disadvantaged group” as persons denied by mainstream society access to resources and tools that are useful for their survival in a way that disadvantages them or individuals who have been subjected to prejudice or cultural bias.
Treasury Communications Director Maina Kigaga said he would need more time to issue a comprehensive response to questions on the firm’s listing.
“First of all today is a Saturday. I would need to ask the procurement officers these questions and I, of course, cannot call them over the weekend. This is something you can find out on Monday,” he said. “The list is very huge and instead of giving you incorrect information, it is better I get the director concerned who will check the actual name and verify.”
Mr Kigaga added that all firms listed under the category of women and youth needed to follow the right procedure to land contracts. “Being under women does not qualify you to do underhand deals. I am not saying that is what they did I just don’t like your line of questioning. The law applies to all,” he said.
PPOA Director-General Maurice Juma said he was in a meeting and could not respond to inquiries.
All this unfolded as investigators and auditors held meetings to discuss the prospect of President Kenyatta’s close relatives being called in for questioning by the anti-graft body over the Sh5.2 billion Ministry of Health scandal.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) was preparing to send out summons to those adversely named beginning tomorrow.
Meanwhile, President Kenyatta remained guarded on the scandal.
State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu said he had no brief from the President on the issue.
However, a source familiar with government thinking said the President would not respond to Mr Odinga’s accusations because he has not been linked to anything. The source said all others mentioned in connection with the alleged scandal were free to react.
“Why should we respond? This is politics. At this point, the audit process is ongoing, give it time to conclude,” the source said.
He added: “Expectation that the President would respond is false... we can’t be set up by Raila, we never react like that. We don’t want ping-pong with Raila.”
Afya House, the Ministry of Health headquarters, was abuzz with activity as staff, including those from field offices, were summoned to meet with the auditors and investigators.
The investigators were drawn from the EACC and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). Internal auditor Bernard Muchere, who had investigated the spending, was also summoned to Afya House.
One investigator who spoke to the Sunday Nation said they were under instructions to tie the loose ends in the interim audit report.
“Headquarters and field staff who may know something about the alleged loss are at the ministry headquarters. We are under orders from above to complete the investigations today,” the investigator at the centre of the investigations said.
The investigator added that phones were being worked overtime to get to the bottom of the scandal that has landed right at the President’s doorstep as his kin and close friends have been mentioned in the scandal.
EACC chief executive Halakhe Waqo said his agency was working round the clock on the case.
“We are very busy because Kenyans want us to work and we won’t relent. There is no rest here,” Mr Waqo said.
“From next week, they will all be appearing before us from the top ministry officials and other purported suppliers,” Mr Waqo added.
“In a nutshell, nobody will be spared. We will start with the most responsible person in the ministry as we progress downwards,” said Mr Waqo.
Besides President Kenyatta’s family members, his close allies have also been named.
They include Paul Ndung’u, the man behind Mobicom and one of the directors of a sports betting firm.
Also named is Richard Ngatia, who is associated with the Galileo Lounge in Westlands, Nairobi, where Jubilee coalition members partied in March 2013 after Mr Kenyatta was declared the President-elect.
Health Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri has also come under pressure over the scandal.
Interestingly, besides the President’s kin and close friends, disgraced former EACC chairman Philip Kinisu and his wife might be among those who will be summoned to Integrity House for questioning by his former juniors, after Esaki Ltd, a company linked to him, was paid Sh150 million.
Mr Kinisu was forced to resign in August after claims of a conflict of interest arose. Esaki Ltd was discovered to have received payments from the National Youth Service amounting to Sh35 million, at a time the EACC was investigating the Sh791 million loss of funds at the agency.
“What we are looking for is the whole spectrum and whoever falls in line as we progress with investigations. It does not matter where one belongs,” said Mr Waqo.
Mr Kinisu’s likely appearance before his former juniors will be the ultimate fall from grace for a man who previously investigated others.
Additional reporting by Wanjohi Githae, Patrick Lang’at and Vincent Achuka