Covid hit Kemsa hard but image improving - Board chair Nyakera

It lost Sh3.5 billion amid procurement scandals, chair Nyakeri said

In Summary

• The agency used to be a centre of excellence in supply chain services until Covid

• New management is sealing procurement loopholes and changing people's culture

Kemsa board chairman Irungu Nyakera and acting chief executive officer Dr Andrew Mulwa at the authority's National Supply Chain Centre in Embakasi on May 24, 2023.
Kemsa board chairman Irungu Nyakera and acting chief executive officer Dr Andrew Mulwa at the authority's National Supply Chain Centre in Embakasi on May 24, 2023.

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority is slowly but surely recovering from the storm over its handling of supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Irregular tendering led to what was dubbed the Covid millionaires scandal.

Speaking at a meeting with editors in Mombasa on Wednesday, Kemsa chairman Irungu Nyakera said the scandals took a toll on the agency.

“From a capital erosion perspective, we lost about Sh3.5 billion,” he said.

Things went from bad to worse after 908,000 mosquito nets, 1.1 million condoms and tuberculosis drugs worth Sh10 million disappeared from Kemsa’s warehouse.

Nyakera said when he took over in May, 88 per cent of media coverage about Kemsa was negative. Seven per cent was neutral and only five per cent positive.

The agency was in limbo as attempts to overhaul it ran into legal challenges.

“We had over 600 staff who were working from home in the process of being replaced.”

However, the new management has since made changes that have improved media coverage to 46 per cent positive.

The team led by Nyakera is sealing procurement loopholes, engaging the media and other stakeholders more and conducting strategic digital campaigns.

Nyakera said people's culture is a key focus of reforms.

“Kemsa used to be like an employment bureau for politicians and their friends,” he said.

It struggled to get funding because critics would say it was a bloated organisation, he said.

The new management has since improved the payroll from Sh107 million to Sh70 million after reducing staff from 750 to 530.

“Nearly all cases have been resolved. Only six are remaining, and we are close to resolving them,” Nyakera said.

He said internally, Kemsa has a plan to tackle its problems, but it needs the help of the media to “reposition outside”.

“Kemsa goes to the last mile to ensure medicine gets there,” he said, emphasising the need for its survival.

Media Council of Kenya training director Victor Bwire said he had read an article asking, ‘After Kemsa lynching, then what?’

“Do people stop taking drugs? Do hospitals close down?” he asked.

“If we’re not careful about how we handle the story, it becomes a problem.”

Bwire said the best way to change the narrative is through transparency.

“We’re still stuck in that culture of siri kali,” he said.

He said there were two to three-week delays in getting information from Kemsa, citing an instance where something was marked confidential yet a local daily was reporting on it.

He said access to information is favoured by the World Bank and will come to end corruption if adhered to.

Earlier, Kemsa's head of communications Elizabeth Mwai said that Kemsa had lost key partners due to the procurement scandals.

She cited USAid, which in 2016 had signed a Sh65 billion deal with Kemsa for the supply of drugs and medical equipment in the country.

Its departure led to a huge gap in revenue.

“We are currently coming up with strategies to win them back,” Mwai said.

Acting procurement director Gilbert Mamati said Kemsa is aware of the concerns raised by donors and is keen to ensure they get value for money.

“We are tightening to ensure past losses do not recur. We minimise to the largest extent possible,” he said.

“When issues happen, they also inform us on what to do. We come up with policies and interventions.”

Operations director Edward Njoroge blamed the expiry of drugs before they are distributed on changes in treatment regimes as science progresses.

“Sh1.1 billion ARVs from a development partner have expired for this reason. They tell us to buy, we bought, then midstream, that was changed,” he said.

Warehouse manager Dr Samuel Okanda said changes in technology are another major issue they face, particularly in the lab.

“We used to have X-rays that were being used. All of a sudden, the digital X-rays came into place,” he said.

“So all the X-rays we had became redundant and expired on us.”

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