In a week when Kenya should be discussing how to finally lift its three-month lockdown that has grounded the economy and cut jobs, the Treasury and Parliament are locked in unnecessary shadow boxing.
Much to the chagrin of Parliament’s Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC), the Treasury wants to hive off Sh1.5 billion for the purchase of testing kits and chemical reagents from the Sh3 billion that MPs had ring-fenced for referral hospitals.
BAC has also rejected attempts to move Sh300 million from the hospitals’ funds for purchase of face masks to vulnerable groups and a further Sh700 million to the Kenya Medical Training College, an isolation centre.
For the budget of testing kits and chemical reagents, the BAC’s position has been hardened by the fact that the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), the procuring entity, is on the crosshairs of the anti-graft agency. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has been investigating claims that Kemsa had procured substandard reagents and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.
It therefore goes without saying that the concerns raised by BAC are genuine and must be handled conclusively. But it should be first things first. The current lockdown is set to lapse on July 6 and President Uhuru Kenyatta has said the country’s level of preparedness will determine whether or not he opts for extension of the restrictions.
Among the World Health Organisation-prescribed basics, an improved population testing and a reliable network for tracing Covid-19 cases are imperative before the lockdown can be lifted. Kenya, with a population of 47 million had tested just 165,196 samples by Sunday. Given that shortage of testing kits and chemical reagents form part of the reasons Kenya has experienced slow testing, the turf wars between the National Treasury and Parliament are uncalled for.
We agree with MPs that the referral hospitals urgently need cash ring-fenced in the Budget to boost the country’s Covid-19 preparedness. That said, it is also acknowledged that the Treasury needs money to ensure the country has sufficient kits. In short, the hospitals require money but the country must also boost its testing capacity, fund its isolation facilities and buy adequate face masks to vulnerable groups. As such, government institutions must find a way in which they can both walk and chew gum. That’s the only way we can be prepared to deal with an increase in the number of infections should the economy be re-opened.