Expose and arraign beneficiaries of Covid money theft

Wednesday July 07 2021
Kemsa warehouse in Nairobi.

A Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) depot in Embakasi, Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The International Monetary Fund has strongly urged the Kenyan government to publish the names of individuals, senior government officials, and owners and shareholders of companies who benefited from funds meant to fight Covid-19.

At the launch of the funds, President Uhuru Kenyatta and newly-appointed Health minister had warned that the funds had to be utilised for the purposes for which they were meant.

The strong warning notwithstanding, officials at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) colluded with high-ranking government officials, politicians and cartels to steal, according to a report by the Auditor-General, some Ksh2.3 billion ($21 million).

Some estimates put the figure of stolen money to be much higher. One time — in relation to another heist — a senior government official lectured us that the Ksh7 billion ($65 million) lost was not much. But by any standard, Ksh2.3 billion or Ksh7 billion are staggering amounts of money that could have saved or transformed hundreds of lives.

What was also jaw-dropping about the Kemsa heist was its audaciousness. A parliamentary hearing on the theft revealed how people, who had only established companies a few days earlier, walked into Kemsa offices and walked out with millions of shillings worth of tenders. The hearings also established that unnamed people in government directed the criminal enterprise through phone calls to Kemsa officials.

But there was also another element to the Kemsa heist — other than the astronomical amount stolen or the audaciousness of the crime — that makes us despair about how low our society has sunk. The heartlessness of the theft. These funds were for the sick and dying.


In collusion with cartels

Perhaps this heartlessness should not be shocking. After all, officials, in collusion with cartels, knowingly repackage carcinogenetic foods to increase their monetary "war chest" in readiness for when they will leave government employment and go into the even more lucrative politics. But the Kemsa thievery had a heartbreaking immediacy to it because people were literally dying from Covid-19.

In the wake of the theft, President Kenyatta vowed quick action on all those involved. But to date, the masterminds and “big fish” beneficiaries of the heist still roam free. I suspect they are readying their campaigns for next year’s elections.

But in a twist that could yet expose the masterminds and the beneficiaries, the IMF has now asked the government to reveal and prosecute the owners of the companies that benefitted from the President Barrack Obama. It will be interesting to see if government, given its cash crunch, will heed the call of a principle lender.

But why do we have to wait for foreign governments or organisations to pressure us to do the right thing? In the 1990s, foreign governments had to pressure former president Daniel arap Moi to dismantle the dictatorship. And in the first term of the jubilee administration, the Pope and President Barrack Obama had to appeal to government to curb runaway thievery. Why can’t we love the country enough to do the right thing on our own?

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator