Fearing ‘money heists’ in Kenya amid pandemic

Friday, May 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe. Photo/PD/John Ochieng

In BBC’s series of letters from African, Kenyan  journalist Waihiga Mwaura writes about concerns that money set aside for the fight against coronavirus is being misspent.

The hashtag #Money Heist has been trending on Twitter in Kenya in recent days - not because of the Netflix series which featured a memorable character called Nairobi but because of a controversial report presented by Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to Parliament.

The report was a breakdown of how Sh1.3 billion ($12.2 million; £9.8 million), mostly donated by the World Bank, was used in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

What caught the attention of the parliamentary committee and Kenyans at large was the cost of some of the items procured or leased.

It showed that Sh42 million was used to lease ambulances, Sh4 million went to tea and snacks, and Sh70 million on communication.

Kenya’s vibrant online community immediately began to question some of the expenses.

Why lease 15 ambulances at that amount instead of just purchasing new ambulances or using the existing fleet? 

Why allocate Sh2 million shillings for mobile phone airtime when telecommunications company Safaricom had offered officials involved in the fight against the virus a free package?

Why was Sh70 million allocated for communication, bearing in mind that media houses had already contributed to airtime for coronavirus-related news updates?

The questions became all the pertinent amid reports that the lockdown intended to curb the spread of the virus had worsened poverty, even forcing a mother to cook stones to make her eight children believe she was preparing food for them.

Granted there were a few Kenyans online, such as Ted Ed who, citing his finance background, justified the expenditure, saying he was confident that any audit would give the government “a clean bill of health”.

Nevertheless, the damage was done and the government was forced to defend itself.

President Uhuru Kenyatta denied that any money had been misappropriated or stolen, while Kagwe dismissed the allegations as “propaganda”.

But shortly thereafter Kagwe carried out a reshuffle in his ministry, transferring 30 senior procurement and accounting officers, according to the  Daily Nation newspaper.

Was this an already scheduled reshuffle or was it a reaction to the hue and cry over the expenditure?

What confused many was that the most senior civil servant in the ministry, Susan Mochache, tweeted a statement saying that they had not received the “complete amount of Sh1 billion from the World Bank and no money had been spent at all”. The tweet with those details was hurriedly deleted.

Kenyans are worried because the ministry is no stranger to controversy - the auditor-general could not account for Sh10.9 billion allocated to the ministry in the 2017/18 financial year and a similar amount in the 2015/16 financial year.

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Kenya has  called for greater transparency and accountability of Covid-19 funds. -BBC

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