Counties unite in Coronavirus looting bonanza

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Kenya Confidential Anti Corruption Awareness Desk, Nairobi – April 9, 2021

A new Auditor General report has raising the red flag on how counties mismanaged a total of Ksh 13.8 billion given to them to fight COVID-19. The auditor general says all the 47 county governments flouted procurement rules, arbitrarily engaging private firms to purchase medical items and giving contracts to their associates without competitive bidding.

The auditor general says the country stands to lose $21 million in the procurement of COVID-19 medical supplies because the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) failed to follow procurement law. Coronavirus is turning out to be a Corruption pandemic in Kenya whose affect will be felt for decades to come.

Auditor General Nancy Gathangu on today said presented to the Senate a special report describing how the supplies were purchased between Kenya’s first confirmed coronavirus case on March 13 and July 31. The Senate requested the look into the agency’s procurement practices after public outcry over reports of pilfering.

The report says Kenya purchased overpriced materials and now, because of lower demand, the agency may not be able to sell the stock. The report says the agency flouted the law while purchasing supplies worth $77 million, in part using money from the World Bank.

The report says the agency’s management bought goods without doing a needs assessment or budgetary allocation and awarded contracts to companies that were just months old. Even when guidelines were put in place for the procurement there is no evidence they were followed, it says.

Some 97% of the supplies purchased for COVID-19 were still in the agency’s warehouses as of September 18th even though they were purchased as matter of urgency, the report says.

Last September Auditor-General’s report indicated that 23 ministry departments and agencies could not account for Ksh 16.6 billion expenditure in the financial year to June 2018. The department and agencies failed to provide payment vouchers, records on receipt of delivered goods and purchase of products outside the budget to support the expenditure.

While that did not necessarily mean the money had been lost, there was reason for taxpayers to get concerned given the levels of corruption reported in government every other day. It is quite possible that the failure to provide proper documentation is a deliberate scheme to steal funds meant for critical public projects.

The Special Programmes department, for instance, is cited in the report as having failed to account for its budget on provision of relief to vulnerable households and members of society. The report should prompt the relevant investigative agencies, especially the Ethics and Anti- Corruption Commission (EACC), to swiftly swing into action. Where it is found that public funds were embezzled, the culprits should be apprehended and made to pay for their wrongs.

There should be a break with the depressingly familiar pattern where the Auditor-General unearths cases of taxpayers money having been stolen, some noise is made about bringing the perpetrators to book, and that is just about it.

Follow-up action by the relevant agencies is often limited if not entirely non-existent.

Yet without high-profile prosecutions and convictions, the Auditor General’s revelations remain mere revelations. And because culprits are left to go scot-free, they are motivated to continue with their theft and even scale it up, leading to the kind of eye-popping scandals such as the one unfolding at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) regarding procurement Covid-19 testing kits.

Corruption takes root and thrives in an environment where culpable public officials aren’t held accountable. Therefore, to stop the scourge bold action must be taken on the basis of the Auditor-General’s reports.

What is the purpose of having such an office if its work is just to churn out reports that no one acts on?

The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Kenya had expected virus infections to peak in September, but government statistics show the number of new confirmed infections has been decreasing.

Anti-corruption activists say Kenya loses as much as 30% of its $27 billion annual budget to graft.