Richard Kerich is the latest high-profile executive to be set free as corruption cases continue collapsing in the corridors of justice.
For Dr Kerich, the case has been hanging over his head for the past decade. “It was a heavy load but I am glad it is over,” he said last Friday following the dismissal of charges brought against him and four others.
Dr Kerich, the former National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) chief executive officer, was freed alongside Fadhili Marwa Chacha, a former manager, of strategy and corporate planning; David Chingi, a former assistant manager, of benefits and quality assurance at NHIF.
Also freed were Peter Ngunjiri Wambugu, Ndiba Warioko and Meridian Medical Centre.
The five faced several charges in connection with the Sh117 million deal with Meridian Medical Centre, to provide medical services to civil servants and disciplined forces.
The former NHIF officials were accused of entering a deal with the hospital when they were aware that Meridian had no capacity to provide such services.
The anti-corruption court, however, dismissed all the charges, saying there was nothing to show that the hospital did not have the capacity or that any procedure was flouted.
“The arrest came when one of my children was in school. You can imagine what he went through. I had to change schools for him,” he said.
He said the 10-year court battle drained him financially, emotionally and physically.
“Imagine the lost opportunities, the time and the uncertainties we faced throughout the trial. It can be frustrating but we soldiered on because we knew we had no case [to answer],” he said.
Other than charges of conspiracy, Dr Kerich, Mr Chacha and Mr Chingi were also accused of abuse of office, failing to comply with procurement laws and conferring a benefit of Sh43 million to Meridian, offences they allegedly committed on December 21, 2011 and February 8, 2012.
Dr Kerich said it was clear from the beginning that the investigating officer had a brief and documents used in the trial were forged to achieve a certain outcome.
He said no evidence was tendered in court to suggest that he, as the accounting officer, gave the job to entities that had no capacity.
Dr Kerich said the evidence tendered clearly demonstrated he appointed evaluation committees to evaluate the capacity of Meridian and he established a Benefits and Quality Assurance department headed by a general manager whose role was to confirm the capacity of service providers.
He also said evidence was tendered to confirm that the payment of Sh116,935,500 to the hospital was made in line with the payment procedures of NHIF.
“As the accounting officer, the role of the first Accused (Dr Kerich) in the payment process is limited to approving the request for payment and which he discharged. The 1st Accused further explained that in providing that approval he is guided by three things and these being Board approval of the project, approval and availability of budget and within the annual work plan,” his lawyer Stephen Bundotich told the trial magistrate.
He further stated that having been satisfied he approved the request for payment on February 29, 2012.
Dr Kerich maintained that as far as procurement and award of the tender was concerned, the law only required him as the accounting officer to appoint committees, and he did.
Meridian was among 173 facilities that responded to an advertisement by NHIF calling for a proposal for the provision of outpatient services to civil servants. It was awarded the tender on December 3, 2008. The procurement process was carried out in the 2008/2009 financial year.
The cover, known as Mzalendo, shortlisted 10 branches of the hospital to start in January 2012.
The court, however, was informed that the tender process and the award was investigated by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and found to be lawful.
Evidence tendered in court was that there were more than 304 healthcare service providers that were contracted to provide outpatient medical cover to members of the said scheme and Meridian Medical Centre was one of them.
The court heard that the contract between the government and NHIF was approved by the NHIF Board on January 4, 2012 and signed on January 5, 2012 by Medical Services PS, and the NHIF chairman as Dr Kerich witnessed.
As to his next plans, Dr Kerich said he is still enjoying "my new-found" freedom before deciding his next course of action.