Economy

Business as usual at Afya House as MPs demand action

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Dr Nicholas Muraguri, Health Principal Secretary. PHOTO | FILE

It was business as usual at the Ministry of Health headquarters in Nairobi even as pressure mounted on top officials to leave office over the multi-billion shilling scandal that dominated newspaper headlines this week.

The anatomy of the Sh5 billion Afya House scam was revealed in a leaked internal audit report showing how money meant for critical health sector programmes such as free maternity and HIV/Aids control were diverted to other budget lines and pocketed by senior ministry officials.

Afya House insiders said Health secretary Cleopa Mailu and his Principal Secretary, Nicholas Muraguri, on Thursday reported to work as usual and sat through a series of meetings where corruption dominated the discussions.

“Dr Muraguri left at around 12.30 p.m. for lunch and by 2 p.m. had not returned,” said the source.

Members of Parliament demanded that the top ministry officials step aside before Tuesday next week to allow investigations and urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to take stern action against his appointees.

Top in the list of fraudulent transactions identified in the audit report included the diversion of Sh889 million meant for counties to pay for free maternity to purchase portable container clinics for urban slums that have not arrived four months into the new financial year.

Governors reacted to reports of diversion of their funds with a demand that the money be returned for use in county hospitals.

The Council of Governors (CoG) said in a statement that the audit report had uncovered the impunity that has seen the ministry cling to resources meant for devolved functions.

“Most of the funds are likely to be misappropriated because they are not captured within the county government systems,” the CoG said, adding the funds’ retention at Afya House was illegal. 

CoG said HIV funds, for instance, are being channelled to individuals’ bank accounts in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

“We wish to warn the public that performance indicators in the health sector will likely drop if the national government with the assistance of some development partners continue this trend,” said the CoG.

The report further indicates that Sh800 million meant to save mothers and infants’ lives during delivery was instead used to pay Estama Investment Limited.

The company whose owners remain in the shadows was to supply 100 portable container clinics at a cost of Sh10 million each.

READ: Revealed: Taxpayers lose Sh5bn in NYS-style Afya House theft

Dr Mailu said on Wednesday that the ministry was open to internal and external scrutiny to ensure transparency and proper utilisation of allocated funds.

He said investigations were ongoing and that the ministry would not condone any acts of corruption.

The Senate Health Committee chairman, Wilfred Machage, said Parliament had been surprised by Afya House corruption.

Dr Mailu and his PS were to appear before the Senate Committee Thursday but chickened out in the last minute.

“We wanted to have a face-to-face communication with them to be enlightened on this matter,” said Dr Machage.

“We have been waiting for them since 9 a.m. and we cannot wait any more. They should step down before Tuesday next week when we expect them here at the Senate.”

The National Assembly Health Committee chairperson, Rachel Nyamai, said billions of shillings had been allocated to various programmes at the ministry in the year 2015/2016 and reports of massive theft “are extremely worrying”.

“The committee met today (Thursday) and resolved to invite the Cabinet Secretary and his Principal Secretary next week to address the concerns and provide insight into the allegations,” she said.

Dr Muraguri sparked public outrage over the reports of massive pilferage at the ministry after he threatened the journalist who went to interview him over the audit reports with dire consequences, including the recording of her phone calls and hacking of her emails.

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The Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) secretary-general, Seth Panyako, said operations in all public hospitals would come to a standstill if Dr Muraguri does not resign within the next seven days.

Mr Panyako said that “more mothers and infants died in Kenya than Somalia” during birth and that it was a shame that money that could be used to save lives was being squandered by greedy public officers.

The free maternity scheme is estimated to prevent over 2,000 maternal and 30,000 child deaths annually.

The National Assembly Public Investment Committee, chaired by Adan Keynan, said it would restrict its mandate to investigating parastatals involved in the scam.

The list of parastatals includes the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, Kenyatta National Hospital, the National Aids Control Commission, the National Quality Control Lab and the Kenya Medical Training College.