How suspended Kemsa CEO threw himself under the bus - Beaking Kenya News

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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

How suspended Kemsa CEO threw himself under the bus

 Suspended Kenya Medical Supplies Authority CEO Jonah Manjari Mwangi

The claims by Kemsa's suspended CEO that he was pressured by top Health ministry officials to procure Covid-19 supplies could complicate his efforts to exonerate himself in the multi-billion shilling scandal.

Claims by Jonah Manjari that Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and PS Susan Mochache made direct contact with him to influence procurement of the items could throw him under the bus.

Procurement laws entrust the responsibility of procurement and day-to-day running of a corporation to the CEO and give the CS the power to convey and articulate government policies.

The Public Finance Management Act, 2015 seeks to ensure public finances are managed in accordance with constitutional principles.

Public officers tasked with managing finances are accountable to the public for the management of those finances through Parliament and county assemblies.

The Public Procurement and Assets Disposal Act, 2015, on the other hand, requires all state organs to comply with the law in planning and undertaking procurement, inventory management, asset disposal and contract management.

There has been a public uproar after revelations that Kemsa officials, led by Manjari, dished out tenders worth billions of shillings to select firms to supply Covid-19 items at inflated prices.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating the alleged scheme to steal the Covid-19 billions. President Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered the EACC to complete investigations in three weeks. 

Last Friday, Manjari told the joint Senate Health and Ad Hoc Committee on Covid-19 that he received calls, text messages and emails from the top ministry officials exerting pressure on him to procure the items.

“We got various requests from the Health CS, the PS Susan Mochache and a member of the Covid-19 Emergency Response Board. The requests were in the form of phone calls, text messages and even emails,” the CEO said.

But Kagwe and Mochache have distanced themselves from the claims.

The assertions have also exposed the suspended CEO to the wrath of MPs who have pledged to personally hold him liable for the procurement mess if he disregarded the law while acting on the alleged instructions.

Kagwe, whose key role is to issue policy directions to the ministry and the corporations under it, denied micromanaging Kemsa.

Kagwe told the Star he did not direct the CEO to procure the Covid-19 items from specific firms "but only relayed the government policy that emphasises the use of locally manufactured items".

“[I told him that] we must buy locally manufactured products and stop importation of personal protective equipment (PPEs),” Kagwe told the Star on Monday.

Kagwe said it is a normal practice for CSs to consult and direct government policies to all government parastatals.

He explained that communications of this nature are always in writing, rubbishing Manjari’s claims that he received instructions through phone calls and text messages.

“The management of the institution is the CEO’s work,” he said.

Mochache, on the other hand, wrote a protest letter to the acting CEO, seeking evidence of claims by the authority that she directed it to procure the items from specific suppliers.

The PS had been put on the spot over a letter she allegedly wrote to Kemsa on April 15, purportedly directing the authority to procure the items from specific firms.

But in the protest letter, the PS listed all the communications and meetings she held with the agency. Mochache said Kemsa had already procured items worth Sh2.1 billion by April 1.

The disclosure on the procurement was made in a report submitted during a meeting convened by the PS on the status of Covid-19 supplies.

“In light of the above, if indeed you stand by the allegations that you were given the instructions by the ministry regarding which suppliers to procure from and at what prices, please provide the letter that has been used to purport that my communication to you on this matter bore instructions as to where to source the items and their prices,” the letter reads.

Speaking during the Senate committee meeting, Manjari also denied claims the PS directed Kemsa to procure the items from specific companies, further throwing himself under the bus. 

He said the list of companies attached to the PS’s letter was generated by Kemsa itself when it wrote to the PS requesting funds to pay the companies for their supplies.

However, according to letters in the Star's possession, Mochache authorised Manjari to directly procure 750 Abboit real-time SARS-COV2 test kits for Sh365, 940, 000.

“Cognizant of the fact that the test kits and the consumables are for very specific equipment and platforms and therefore fall under the category of a ‘closed system’ of supply, you are further authorised to use direct procurement,” the letter reads.

Mochache is expected to appear before the National Assembly Health Committee to explain the allegations.

On Tuesday, Public Accounts Committee chair Opiyo Wandayi and his Finance counterpart Gladys Wanga said Manjari will take personal responsibility for any misappropriation of funds.

The two said citing top officials' names will not absolve the CEO from wrongdoing in the scandal that has hit the corporation.

“We will not listen to excuses that people called from the ministry or sent text messages giving instructions. The law is very clear on how to procure items,” Wandayi said.

Manjari is accused of disregarding the Public Finance Management Act, 2015 and the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, 2015.

Joy Mdivo, an advocate of the High Court, said the buck stops with the accounting officers in any procurement.  “There are no two ways about it. We have seen people who have been left to fry alone when the rubber meets the road,” she said.

Wandayi maintained that accounting officers must be held accountable for any flaws in procurement. “Instructions will not apply here. If there are is evidence that you were called or texted, provide them but they will not absolve you from wrongdoing,” he added.

Wanga said, “Let us remove politics from the matter. Why should people keep on dropping names and point fingers? Even the CEO must take responsibility and not just say I was called or I received a text,” she said. 

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