Six counties on EACC’s radar over misuse of Corona cash

Monday, April 27th, 2020 00:00 |
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission executive officer Twalib Mbarak. Photo/PD/FILE

Top officials from six counties are being investigated over alleged misappropriation of funds meant to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the People Daily has established.

They are being probed over direct procurement, single sourcing of suppliers—mainly food and medical equipment—as well as hiking of prices, which have emerged as the most common avenues abused by corrupt county staff to skim off public resources.

The country’s 47 counties have set aside millions of shillings to not only to tame the spread of the virus that has so far killed 14 people and infected more than 300, but also cushion Kenyans from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Counties where the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has already demanded documents over suspicious procurement include Bungoma, where common jerrycans used for carrying water were bought at Sh10,000 each, Kilifi over the Health ministry’s expenditure and a county in North Eastern Kenya where the probe has just began.

Yesterday, EACC executive officer Twalib Mbarak told the People Daily he is focusing on claims of inflated prices, conflict of interest where unscrupulous officials are said to have awarded inflated tenders to relatives and cronies as well as cases where firms are supplying less than the agreed order.

“The expenditure is the most vulnerable where there are county officers who do not have integrity. They are taking advantage of the situation but we are tracking them and they should know that crime doesn’t expire.

Even after the pandemic, we still go for them,” Mbarak said in a telephone interview, adding that as they progress, the number of counties under watch was likely to go up.

Further, the EACC is investigating claims of supply of substandard goods and services, and poor planning by counties, leading to wastage. For example, some county officials are installing too many sanitising jerrycans in public places without water and soap.

The purchases, Mbarak said, awere sanctioned by corrupt officials who detectives suspect are getting fat kickbacks from suppliers who are being picked through direct procurement and single sourcing.

The EACC chief said immediately coronavirus became a crisis, and with counties being deeply involved in mitigating the spread, the agency anticipated that corrupt officials could take advantage to steal public resources.

Yesterday, however, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua defended county officials against accusations of using the pandemic to misappropriate funds, saying their actions were guided by Gazette Notice Number 53 signed on April 2 on asset disposal.

However, sources in the counties told People Daily that direct procurement and single sourcing which had been allowed since the pandemic broke, had opened avenues for corrupt officials including governors, to dish out business to their cronies and relatives.

The tenders mostly involve supply of foodstuff, medical supplies and equipment to promote hygiene such as hand washing containers and sanitisers and expenditure in health departments. 

To this effect, EACC sent a circular to Council of Governors chief executive Jacqueline Mogeni and copied it to Council of Governors chair Wycliffe Oparanya, asking counties to ensure corruption loopholes are sealed. 

“The commission will be keenly monitoring the utilisation and management of public resources by all county governments and State agencies to avert any loss or misuse of public resources during the current extra ordinary period,” said Mbarak’s letter, copied to the Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua.

But it appears the advice was ignored and some counties, which have been announcing that they had set aside millions to fight the pandemic by equipping hospitals, promoting hygiene and donation of food, are taking advantage of the virus to siphon public funds.

For instance, Bungoma county headed by Governor Wyclife Wangamati, allegedly bought 600 20-litre jerrycans at Sh10,000  each to distribute to residents in a hand washing drive, and the EACC boss said there are similar reports from other counties. 

In the Amason Kingi-led Kilifi county, Mbarak said they were probing tendering transactions in the Health department, noting that they had asked for relevant documents to facilitate investigations.

The North Eastern county, which Mbarak did not name, is said to have drafted a Sh450 million budget to fund Covid-19 activities, but according to the EACC chief, the itemisation does not make sense and could be a ploy to facilitate theft.

Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, yesterday warned county bosses against embezzling funds set aside to help fight the pandemic, saying the House, which is mandated to oversight county governments, would ensure a thorough audit when the crisis ends.

 The International Commission for Jurists (ICJ), through its local chairman Kelvin Mogeni, has also asked government agencies to ensure transparency and accountability in the procurement of medical supplies and services needed to protect Kenyans from the contagion.

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