Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was forced into a corner after an audit revealed that a company owned by his sister and a cousin was part of the firms that were suspected to have been irregularly paid $50 million from Ministry of Health coffers.
The series of scams has seen opposition politicians and NGO activists dub Kenyatta’s ‘the most corrupt regime in Kenya’s history’. In the most recent, Sundales International, owned by Uhuru's sister Nyokabi Kenyatta Muthama and cousin Kathleen Kihanya, was reported to have pocketed $400 000 in questionable payouts.
An internal audit that was leaked to the press exposed what could be the biggest financial scam in Kenyatta’s government. The latest scheme came to light as parliament started grilling those implicated in a $7 million theft from the National Youth Service.
Anne Waiguru, a former Minister for Devolution and a close confidante of the president, was forced to resign over the scandal. In what resembles a soap opera, Waiguru’s former hairdresser Josephine Kabura told the parliamentary probe committee that using the former minister’s influence, she registered some 20 companies in one day through which she was paid around $160 million for supplying ‘air’ to the government.
Back to the ministry of health scandal. According to Bernard Muchere, the internal auditor, among the avenues exploited by the managers was diversion of monies to fictitious suppliers from critical programmes such as the free maternity scheme. Muchere expressed fears that there could be even more money lost in the heist that also involved manipulation of the government's payments system, the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis).
“The small sample covered is an indicator that there could be a wider scheme wherein the ministry could have incurred huge losses to the detriment of service delivery to the public,” Muchere said in his report to Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopha Mailu.
The auditors raised fears that the theft and misappropriation of funds from the ministry may have caused an increase in the death of babies: “Increase in child mortality rate due to non-remittance of free maternity grants to the counties and referral hospitals”.
The scandal comes to light just days after President Kenyatta expressed frustrations about the fight against graft in his government, where hardly any convictions have been made to date.
The ministry of health headquarters is called ‘Afya House’, afya being the kiSwahili word for health. The ever creative Kenyan journalists have since named this as the ‘Mafya House Scandal’, which did not go down well with top officials in the ministry.
Permanent Secretary Nicholas Muraguri personally called the author who broke the story and threatened her with dire consequences. He said the government "could even read her stories before they are published" and that the government had "ways to deal with nosy journalists". Unknown to him, the journalist recorded the conversation and the next day the newspaper ran it in its entirety. Muraguri was forced to make a public apology.
It was at this juncture that opposition leader Raila Odinga waded into the controversy asking President Kenyatta to own up. “Is it conceivable that, for a government that is now openly boasting that it can read people’s computers and bank accounts remotely, did not know that key members of his administration, friends and kin were involved in corrupt business at the Ministry of Health, touching on a program in which he has shown direct personal interest like maternal health?
"This scandal is President Kenyatta’s scandal. He must deal with it as such. He must tell the country what he knows, when he knew it and what he did when he knew it,” Odinga said.
At the National Youth Service probe, hairdresser Kabura left the country when she claimed that she did not know the firms she paid after withdrawing huge sums from the bank. Some of the names she chose for her companies included Ambition Learning, Inspired Trading, Smart Trading, Critical Mass Electricals, Essential Prodigy Trading, Mindful Learning and Bright Thinking Traders.