A heated and bitter exchange of words ensued between top officials of the anti-graft body and senators over a probe into the procurement of the controversial Sh800 million mobile container clinics that have been lying idle for four years.
Members of the Senate Committee on Health tore into the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) chief executive Twalib Mbarak after he failed to give a progress report of the agency’s investigations.
Senators Ledama Ole Kina (Narok), Abdullahi Ali (Wajir), and Mary Seneta (nominated) demanded details of the investigations but Mbarak declined, saying doing so would jeopardize the probe.
“The discussion we are having will interfere with the outcome of the investigations,” Mbarak said, cautioning members that any “slip of the tongue” will cost the entire probe into the Special Portable Clinics Project by the Ministry of Health.
“I am not defending anybody but I have limitations. We cannot go to the nitty-gritty of the investigations,” he told members.
Senators had requested the list of 10 companies and directors that the Health ministry had invited for a restricted tendering for the project.
The incident comes after the EACC submitted in its court papers that it had a case to prove how high-end wheeler-dealers at the Ministry of Health colluded with unqualified companies to inflate the cost of mobile clinics from Sh308 million to Sh800 million.
Under the well-calculated scheme, the anti-graft agency noted a prefabricated medical clinic that could be locally manufactured at a cost of Sh3 million was given to a Chinese Company at a cost Sh8 million per unit.
The deal further shows the Chinese company, Guangzhou Moneybox Steel Structure Engineering Limited, received only Sh525 million meaning the firm awarded the contract, Estama Investment Limited, pocketed Sh275 million for just being a go-between.
At the time of the scandal, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the current Lands PS, was Director of Medical Services. The Health PS was Khadija Khassachoon.
Since November 3, 2016, EACC has been investigating allegations of procurement irregularities at the Ministry of Health with regard to the tender awarded to Estama Investments Limited for the supply of 100 portable clinics at Sh10 million per unit, totaling Sh1 billion.
In his defense, Mbarak who was accompanied by the agency head of investigations, Abdi Ahmed, said that they had obtained documents from the Ministry of Health, various banks, Registrar of Companies, and recorded statements from 58 persons of interest in the matter.
“On the procurement process, payments and confirmation of the supply. All the local aspects of the investigations have been concluded,” he told the committee chaired by Trans Nzoia Senator Michael Mbito.
Senators, however, insisted that they needed to know the other companies that had been invited to tender for the project.
“What is wrong with you giving us the detail of the 10 companies,” Wajir Senator Abdullahi Ali asked.
This even as nominated Senator Mary Seneta told Mbarak not to hold on to the information “by hiding behind legal procedures and processes.”
Expressing his discontent with committee members, Mbarak told the committee that he was disappointed that legislators were suspecting he was hiding something.
“If you insist, I will give you what you want but I can assure you that we will mess up the investigations and we will not make headway,” he charged.
Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina told Mbarak that senators have taken an oath and would not jeopardize investigations.
“In the past, we have met with the Director of Public Prosecutions in camera and he gave us the information we asked for,” he stated.
Eventually, the EACC boss bowed to pressure and promised to provide the information the senators had requested.
He noted that the ministry through the restricted tendering method invited 10 firms to bid but only six firms responded.
“On 29 June 2015, the tender was awarded to Estama Investment Ltd at a cost of Sh10 million per unit,” he noted.
He disclosed that EACC investigations had focused on the procurement process, payments, and confirmation of the supply.
“The commission submitted a Mutual Legal Assistance to China, seeking to establish the actual cost of the equipment in order to determine whether the Government got value for money,” he said.
Mbarak said that in January 2018, EACC filed a Civil Suit ACEC No. 1 of 2018, for recovery of approximately Sh400 Million being the difference between the amount paid and the valuation of the portable clinics.
“On the 9th March 2018, the defendants made an application for negotiation through the Alternative Dispute Resolution. The parties have been granted up to 18th January 2021 to settle the matter,” Mbarak told the committee.
“The commission is awaiting the response of the MLA request to China so that the criminal investigations file can be concluded and forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions,” he added.