BWIRE: After public lynching of KEMSA, what next?

BWIRE: After public lynching of KEMSA, what next?

By Victor Bwire

The usual mob injustice, transactional nature and emotional approach to dealing with fraud and corruption in public institutions in Kenya is at it again; and the outcome can easily be predicted; we will publicly lynch the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA), butcher its reputation, make some money from the alleged scandals and make a few cosmetic movement of staff with no impact.

The newly-appointed CEO and board will struggle to re-do the public image of the institutions and no structural reforms will be attempted, for the real intention is not that. We have seen it before with the National Youth Service, the National Irrigation Board, Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya Medical Research Institute to name but a few.

Whenever we notice something wrong at a public institution, the solution lies in using the mistakes to come up with alternative ways of doing things, correct what is not working and improve the institution and its structures and strengthen it.

Otherwise, the wholesale approach to condemning and killing public institutions through a spur of the moment approach then the normal resumes, with scratching an inch of the problem, changing a few people at the top without dealing with the structural and human made challenges that are exported to those institutions is a waste of resource.

While the issues being raised about KEMSA and COVID-19 procurements are genuine and of public concern, the disorganized and disjointed approach to dealing with the issue is unprofessional and the usual ‘planned to fail’ approach is irritating. We are still waiting for the investigations and special audit ordered into affairs at the medical supplies agency, which seems will never come, as the various Parliamentary committees continue earning some tokens from the public hearings and drama over what really happened.

Before we come up with a reviewed operational manual for KEMSA and alternative way of procuring and distribution of media supplies in this country, KEMSA is still the only functional way of doing that work. While the public is being treated to the COVID-19 drama enterprise at KEMSA, the agency is still the one doing the procurement, storage and distribution of medical supplies to the national government and county governments health facilities including essential medical supplies for HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, family planning, emergency /accident treatment using public resources and with support of critical development partners in the health sector.

No alternatives are being put forward from stakeholders in the health sector nor like in the case of the NYS, proposals from the government on what is to be done to improve medical supplies information sharing, procurement, storage, distribution and marketing, other than the current mob injustice approach to establishing the real problem at the agency. With the CEO suspended and the board staring at having their tour of duty terminated, even those in management at the agency are unsure of how to tell Kenyans, what else is going on.

According to its constituting Act, KEMSA is a specialised medical logistics provider for public health facilities and programmes. As a State corporation, KEMSA replaced successive medical stores administrations that had existed since 1901 under various names. KEMSA supports the National Health Strategic Plan and the Kenya Health Package for Health providing public facilities with the right quantity and quality of drugs and medical supplies at the best market value.

Its mandate include to procure, warehouse and distribute drugs and medical supplies for prescribed public health programs, the national strategic stock reserve, prescribed essential health packages and national referral hospitals. It has entered into partnership with or establish frameworks with County Governments for purposes of providing services in procurement, warehousing, distribution of drugs and medical supplies.

With national coverage of 4,100 facilities, KEMSA works closely with the Government of Kenya, multi-lateral and bi-lateral aid organizations who finance healthcare such as: WHO, Unicef, Global Fund, USAid, Danida, Clinton Foundation, PEPFAR among others, who currently, are unable to continue with working with the agency because of the COVID-19 related allegations. Things are the place are slow, and frustrations can be seen on the staff, who being strangers to the allegations are not sure the next move.

A host of reports by the Auditor General reports on public institutions indicates high -level impunity and system failures and capacities in the agencies. People both in Government and the private sector have taken advantage of the system failures to loot, illegally transfer resources from Kenya and frustrate tax collection. It’s a complex business venture and such high level corruption is a significant contributor to the incidence of terrorism in the country.

Studies show that the biggest form of corruption in Kenya as seen on cases relating to public institutions is in asset misappropriation largely cash theft and fraudulent disbursements including billing schemes, where payments are made to a fictitious supplier, and payroll schemes, where payments are made to fictitious employees (often known as ‘ghost employees’).

This spur of the moment approach to killing institutions without serious investment in unearthing structural challenges facing public institutions is frustrating the right of Kenyans to good quality services while benefitting the few people that can make millions from such events.

Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya