Uhuru sacks embattled Kemsa board over corruption claims

Friday, April 30th, 2021 00:00 |
Immediate former Kemsa board chair Kembi Gitura when he appeared before a parliamentary committee, recently. Photo/PD/FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta has disbanded the board of controversy-ridden Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) and appointed a new 5-member team. Uhuru has also revoked the appointment of Kembi Gitura as the chairman of the board.

In a Gazette Notice issued on Wednesday and dated April 28, the President appointed Mary Chao Mwadime as the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Kemsa for a period of three years, with the appointment taking effect on April 30.

The fate of Gitura remains in question and is not clear if he will take over as the chairman of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) board. Uhuru had on March 25 picked the former Murang’a senator to chair the CA board where he will serve for three years with effect from April 18, 2021.

In the same Gazette Notice, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe appointed four new members of Kemsa board.

The four include Rt Captain Lawrence Wahome, Robert Nyarango, Terry Kiunge Ramadhani and Linton Nyaga Kinyua.

Numerous scandals

Kagwe revoked the appointment of Timothy Mwololo Waema, Bibiana Njue, Joel Onsare Gesuka and Dorothy Atieno as members of Kemsa’s Board of Directors.

The changes come at the backdrop of a litany of corruption and negligence allegations pitting the agency.

The recent accusation facing the body involves the alleged distribution of banned Antiretroviral drugs (ARVS) last week, at a time when investigations into  the Kemsa heist are still under way.

Gitura has been at the helm of the medical supplies agency for barely two years during which the agency was dogged with numerous scandals, the latest one being the loss of billions of shillings in the supply of Covid-19 related materials.

Gitura, however, maintained that no money was lost but went ahead and suspended three top officials including Chief Executive Jonah Manjari, Director of Procurement Charles Juma and Commercial Director Edward Mureithi.

During one of the appearances before a parliamentary committee, Manjari claimed that some board members influenced the award of the Sh7.6 billion Covid-19 related tenders.

Manjari said contrary to claims that the board members were not aware of what was going on at the institution; they were briefed on daily basis though no physical meetings were being held due to upsurge of coronavirus cases.

During the investigations by several agencies including parliamentary committees and the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC), the board was accused of either colluding with the management or failing to act.

According to  the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS  (Nephak) and other organisations, the released ARVs were phased out because of adverse side effects on patients.

The drugs released by Kemsa include nevirapine syrup for children and nevirapine tablets for adults.

A report by the Senate last month incriminated the Kemsa board for failing to oversee the operations of the management in the procurement of Covid-19 items.

The Senate Health Committee demanded investigations of senior Kemsa officials for their role in the scandal that saw millions of funds lost.

The new appointments come just days after the United States for the first time declared its stand on the ARVs standoff, with US Secretary of State  Anthony J Blanken saying his government had taken notice of corruption at Kemsa.

“We have had an issue with Kemsa, the institution responsible for the distribution of drugs, and as you know very well, concerns in particular about corruption that I know the government is working to reform.

We have an obligation to our own taxpayers when we’re spending their money to do it in a way that is accountable and fully transparent,” Blinken said on Wednesday during an interview with a local TV station.

Last month, USAID refused to release a consignment of drugs at the port of Mombasa, demanding that a private US based company, Chemonics International, be allowed to distribute the drugs.

Blinken said USAID’s assistance to people living with HIV will continue in an environment of accountability and transparency on Kemsa’s part, which has been discussed with President Uhuru.

“What we talked about today was making sure that as Kemsa was being reformed nothing fell through the cracks, that we had the ability together to make sure that our assistance continued uninterrupted, so that people in need of what we’re providing didn’t go without it.

And I think that we’re going to work very closely together to make sure that happens,” Blinken said.

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