At long last, faces of Covid-19 millionaires start emerging

A complete picture of individuals who benefited from the direct procurement party at the State drugs agency, creating overnight Covid-19 millionaires, has finally started to be revealed.

This is after the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) began publishing the list of its suppliers on the official government tender website, the Public Procurement Information Portal (PPIP), nearly three months after President Uhuru Kenyatta made the order.

The development now gives the country a peek into the Sh7.8 billion contracts dished out and the faces behind hundreds of companies that benefited from the lucrative Covid-19 tenders, making some handsome returns.

This comes even as the Nation has learnt that a number of companies caught in the midst of the scandal have turned the heat on Kemsa to finalise payment for their deliveries before distributing their stocks to counties.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) froze all payments to the companies to stop any further losses. EACC said when its detectives came in, they helped stop another Sh9 billion that was to be paid out.

Stopped all payments

Yesterday, the EACC said the caveat not to pay is still on, which means that the companies will have to wait longer to get their money.  “We have stopped all payments related to Covid-19 until our investigations are completed.  On the goods, they are perishable and will expire sometime,” EACC boss Twalib Mubarak told the Nation yesterday in an SMS response.

“But they are exhibits and the court will need to see them in line with the law on production of perishable goods. They cannot be released without our knowledge,” said the EACC boss.

The delays in payments have also forced some suppliers to start asking counties and other government agencies to pay cash upfront for any additional stocks, in what is set to further hurt the country’s fight against coronavirus, now in its deadliest phase yet.

But the biggest headache is who will pick up the tab between taxpayers and suppliers, a number of whom are yet to be paid.

The publishing of the names will, however, help boost scrutiny on the companies that were single-sourced and handed tenders by the suspended Kemsa management.

Some of the companies had just been registered and had no previous supply record at the agency, exposing the country to a loss of Sh7.8 billion.

 Not all companies listed have committed any crimes or are guilty of procurement fraud. But it is upon investigators to point out which ones out of the 301 contracts signed this year have a case to answer.

So far, from what has been published on the procurement portal, 2020 has emerged as the best year by far for Kemsa in terms of procurement. The drugs agency has already put out 298 tenders, more than double the 132 it advertised in 2019 and five times more than the 57 in 2018.

On the contracts signed, the government website shows that Kemsa has signed 301 contracts this year valued at Sh10 billion. This is six times more than the Sh1.6 billion worth of contracts signed in 2019 for 104 contracts and dwarfs the Sh363 million worth of contracts signed in 2018 for 42 contracts.

Some of the companies listed to have signed contracts this year with Kemsa include Philips Healthcare Technologies Ltd for Covid-19 test kits worth Sh150 million, Zonken Medical Supplies (extraction kits), Bell Industries (thermometers), F & S Scientific Ltd (swabs) and Zebra Investments Ltd (Supply of Viral Transport Media complete with swab on emergency basis) on an emergency basis for Sh140 million.

Reason left blank

 Also on the list of some of the beneficiaries of the Sh10 billion tenders from Kemsa is Sagana Holdings Ltd, a direct procurement for the supply of surgical face masks. Its directors are Gerald Kihuga Ng’ang’a, Kimondo Mwendia Kariuki, Elizabeth Wanjiru Maragwa, Naomi Mauline Wambui and Beth Wanjiru Gichohi. Their registered address is LR No. 209/618 Victor House on Kimathi Street in Nairobi. The contract sum is Sh21.8 million.

The reason the company was picked was left blank. Usually the practice is to reveal why the tender was given to a particular firm, such as the cheapest bid, the most responsive and so on.

This is the weakness of direct tenders. It also does not provide names of the evaluators of the tenders as required in an open process. Others are Nanopay Ltd, Ziwala Ltd, Caperina Enterprises Ltd, Wallabis Ventures Ltd, Petrel Agencies Ltd, Marray and Sons Ventures Ltd, Ecotech East Africa Ltd and Villa Surgical Equipment Ltd, among others.

The tenders’ portal also lists all the other contracts besides those for the Covid-19 supplies.

In August, President Kenyatta ordered the Health ministry to make public all suppliers in an effort to boost transparency and the fight against corruption within 30 days.  But the ministry and the drugs agency had not complied at the end of the deadline.

 All government procurement agencies are required to publish all their tenders on a government portal that is accessible to all citizens.

But majority of the ministries and government agencies fail to publish all the tenders, often picking and choosing what to make public, effectively hiding crucial information from the public, which would like to scrutinise the tenders.

Whether by design or default, this continues to puncture the fight against corruption and embarrass the government’s numerous efforts at transparency.

But it adds to the long list of orders by President Kenyatta to various government agencies and ministries to come clean and make public the beneficiaries of multibillion-shilling tenders as required by the Constitution.

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