Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha and former Medical Services Principal Secretary Peter Tum have been placed at the centre of the botched Sh3.7 billion mosquito net supply tender as more revelations continue to emerge.
The latest twist to the scandal comes after former Public Health PS Dr Josephine Mburu, Kemsa chief executive officer Terry Ramadhani and the Authority’s board chairperson Daniel Rono narrated how they were made the sacrificial lambs in the saga.
This as senators were told of interference in the multi-billion tendering process that turned it into a circus as interests from top government officials played out.
Appearing before the Senate Health Committee yesterday, Dr Mburu told the committee how her sacking came as a shocker since Kemsa is not under the State department she led but under medical services which was under Mr Tum, now in the Sports ministry as PS.
She also disclosed that she was not involved in the tendering process as the same had been closed by the time she assumed office.
The ex-PS disclosed that she was neither the accounting officer nor the authority to incur expenditure (AIE) holder of the Health Ministry.
Dr Mburu added that she learnt of the closing of the tender and its subsequent cancellation in the media as she was not involved in the process.
She said all the correspondences were with Mr Tum as he was the head of Kenya Coordinating Mechanism for Global Fund with the international organisation writing directly to the former medical services PS.
“I was not involved in the tendering process because Kema was under Mr Tum. Everything was beyond me,” said Dr Mburu.
Asked by nominated senator Hamida Kibwana why she was sacked yet Kemsa is not under her former office and she was not involved in the process, the former PS said she is yet to be told why she was fired.
Narrating her ordeal, Dr Mburu said she was in her office working that fateful day before she saw in the media that she had been fired and a subsequent letter from Head of Public Service Felix Koskei communicating the same.
She said she was with President William Ruto in a meeting that morning and nothing was said to her about her impending sacking only to see her termination in the media that she had been sacked on public interest.
“I also still ask myself why I was fired. I was caught unawares by the sacking. It was a shock. I have been a career civil servant for 34 years with no case against me,” said Dr Mburu.
“I would like the truth to come out. Although I will not challenge the President, I will look for fair administrative justice. I would like to know what he was told to warrant my firing,” she added.
Stripped of her roles
Spilling more beans to the Uasin Gishu Jackson Mandago-led committee, the ex-PS recounted how she was even stripped of her roles through executive orders by President William Ruto before her sacking.
She said that the first executive order gave her expanded roles except for Kemsa and NHIF but all public health programmes were under her.
However, another executive order reduced the 13 functions to seven with the functions taken to the medical services department.
“I was only left with TB and Malaria programmes with the other five functions under professional standards. Even though I was in charge of TB and Malaria programmes, procurement of commodities was being done by Kemsa and I was only copied the letters,” she said.
Asked by Narok Senator Ledama Olekina at what point she get involved with the multi-billion tendering process, the ex-PS said she found the process closed and was only briefed on what had been done.
She said her only involvement came through a February 21, 2023 letter she wrote to the Kemsa boss seeking clarification on some specifications she had been told had been omitted in the advertisement made by the Authority.
“I wanted Kemsa to look at the error and rectify it. I did not ask for tender cancellation as my involvement ended with the letter,” she said.
Nominated senator Esther Okenyuri asked why it took that long for the technical committee to identify the omission while Ms Kibwana inquired if the letter did interfere with or stalled the tendering process.
Nonetheless, she said the team saw the omission after it was advertised while Dr Mburu said her letter did not stall the process but only sought clarity on the specifications which she did not get any response.
She told the committee that Director of Medical Services Dr Andrew Mulwa and Malaria Programme Head Dr Omar Ahmeddin had already nominated individuals to sit on the evaluation and technical committees for the tender.
However, Dr Mburu admitted that she only forwarded two people to the tender technical committee so as to be abreast with what was happening since the malaria programme was under her control.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei asked if the Kemsa board and boss were involved in the procurement process but she said she cannot speak for Kemsa as it did not fall under her.
Also appearing before the committee was Ms Ramadhani who narrated how CS Nakhumicha made calls and other correspondences to her to meet certain individuals one being Ken Ogolla, who the CS said was well-known to her, while also floating to them a company that was ready to give pre-qualification technology for free.
She said that she neither met Mr Ogolla nor agreed to the firm that was being pushed by the CS disagreeing in the process.
Making more revelations, Ms Ramadhani said that after her several letters to the ministry went unresponded to, CS Nakhumicha advised her not to engage Dr Mburu but Mr Tum as her several letters to the ministry were not getting responded to.
“I was told by the CS that any communication I should have should be with Mr Tum because Kemsa falls under him although some budget for malaria and TB programmes were under Dr Mburu,” said Ms Ramadhani.
She further disclosed how there were different gazette notices by the CS on the composition of the agency’s board leaving the board not fully constituted.
“There was a lot of confusion on who the board members were. I did not know what was going on,” she said.
On her sacking, Ms Ramadhani said she doesn’t know why she was fired other than the information on the media from Mr Koskei’s memo.
“Honestly, I am perplexed why we were suspended. I don’t know what to make of it whether it is political or not,” she said.
“There is a procedure to be followed under the Employment Act but no one has contacted me after the sacking.”
On the tendering process, she maintained that it was above board as Kemsa and is still confused why global fund terminated it, saying the move was very peculiar as that was not the only tender they had done for them.
She said the organisation did not give them time to inquire more about their decision, apart from citing some other inconsistencies with the process but only raising the pagination issue.
“I believe there isn’t anything untoward on how we handled the process to warrant the kind of treatment we have received,” said the ex-Kemsa boss. “Even as the CEO, I did not understand what the issue was but since it was the global fund’s decision and being the funders, we had nothing much to do.”
Ms Ramadhani said the tender was advertised on January 31, 2023, and closed on March 10, 2023, following an extension on February 23 occasioned by Dr Mburu’s letter.
She added that the inconsistency noted by Dr Mburu was on the type of insecticide to be used but the one Kemsa had advertised had been approved by Global Fund.
“There was no loss of public funds because there were no awards done. The process had not come to an end and there wasn’t any commitment to any supplier.”
Asked by Senator Mandago whether Dr Mburu’s letter could have led to the termination of the tender, she said the global fund just mentioned the letter in passing and the time constraints to manufacture the nets.
“They did not make any further reference to the letter so I don’t know whether it had any weight on their decision. The decision was surprising.”
She added that the global fund had approved the tender before they advertised it and the National Treasury also confirmed that they met the specifications of the Fund.
Asked by Mr Olekina that her sacking could have been due to failure to close the tendering process, Ms Ramadhani said Dr Mburu’s letter had raised material issues and it would have been a disservice to Kenyans if he had gone ahead to close the process without clarifying the issue.
“The team that evaluates the process is independent and even as the CEO and the accounting officer, I only get to know about the process later on,” she said.
For his part, Mr Rono absolved himself from blame, saying matters to do with procurement did not fall under the board which only handles policy issues.
“I learnt of the tender cancellation from the media. I joined Kemsa board in February and got the process ongoing and so I was technically green on what was happening,” said Mr Rono.