KIBISU KABATESI

By KIBISU KABATESI
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The mystery of the Managed Equipment Services (MES), on leased medical apparatus supplied to the counties, baffles but could unravel soon as Parliament wants the “real faces” behind the deal exposed and its cost established.

The MES was procured in February 2015 by the Ministry of Health at Sh38 billion “on behalf of county governments” to supply and equip two hospitals in every county with high-tech machines to manage diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

But the five firms that won the tender — General Electric, Philips, Bellco SRL, Esteem and Mindray Biomedical Company — are also accused of supplying syringes and gloves as ‘specialised medical equipment’.

Allocation to counties followed a vicious quarrel, after which governors were practically blackmailed to accept MES, whose details of the suppliers, contract and cost they and the Senate have been asking for in vain.

A media blitz against “ungrateful” governors refusing equipment that could “save the dying” in their regions saw the reluctant county bosses intimidated into submission.

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But MES has been truly a mess: multibillion-shilling equipment offloaded indiscriminately in counties without infrastructure ended up in poor storage facilities.

Nobody wanted to know a county’s needs, whether it has storage or installation facility, technicians to operate the machines or a budget to run them.

Some counties never got the machines; others got a few. There was no verification of the worth of the equipment.

This awkward situation has prevailed even as the cost, which is loaded onto county revenue allocations, escalates. From the initial Sh38 billion, the ministry has varied the cost annually.

Counties pay Sh9.4 billion, or Sh200 million each, yearly. By 2018, the suppliers had pocketed Sh68 billion. In the Division of Revenue Bill 2019, counties will lose Sh6.5 billion to MES debt servicing.

On Thursday last week, online publisher APO Group distributed a press release titled “GE Healthcare and Kenya’s Ministry of Health Train over 260 Healthcare Professionals”.

The revealing introduction reads: “The training is part of refresher courses for the Managed Equipment Services (MES) project launched in 2015.”

The GE has come out from the cold. According to the author of the statement, Ms Annette Mutuku, the communications leader, the managing director of GE Healthcare, East Africa, is Andrew Waititu.

The oddity of the release is the suggestion that GE Healthcare is the sole MES supplier. What about the other four? She says they were inducting “260 healthcare technologists from Kenya’s 47 counties” four years after it supplied the equipment in “refresher courses”.

But there is no mention of prior training to merit “refresher” stimulation. Interestingly, the 260 were trained at GE Skills and Training Institute (HSTI) in Nairobi.

GE Healthcare says HSTI is a $13 million (Sh1.3 billion) investment at the Watermark Business Park, in the Karen suburb.

It was launched in 2016 — a year after GE Healthcare bagged the MES tender. Curiously, HSTI was founded in “collaboration” with the Health ministry “as part of the MES project”.

Parliament may want to know whether HSTI is co-owned by GE Healthcare and the ministry, and how the Sh1.3 billion HSTI was sourced.

How does HSTI relate to the Managed Equipment Services Implementation Committee (Mesic) chaired by a Mr Morang’a Morekwa? Or is HSTI a special purpose vehicle to siphon money?

The HSTI’s singular purpose is to ensure “proper running and maintenance” of the medical equipment in the MES project”.

To this end, GE Healthcare claims to have trained 1,600 people, although a breakdown of staffing may not confirm such a number of technologists in county health facilities.

Meanwhile, if HSTI is an offshoot of MES, what happens to it after the GE Healthcare contract expires?

Last November, Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki’s hesitant rationalisation of (by then) Sh68 billion spent on MES in jingoistic phrases pointed at chickens coming home to roost.

The smoking gun was that any time a ministry engages in a media blitzkrieg, it is usually out of fear that a festering fraud would be exposed.

So what is the hullabaloo? Disclosure could depict MES as a mega heist. Upfront is the suspicious government refusal to disclose the cost of MES.

Disclosure might reveal how GE Healthcare secured the contract and expose the flouting of the PFM Act by single-sourcing.

It might, indeed, reveal who are the ring-fenced four proxy firms that supply expensive consumables, and that the project is overpriced.

The training antidote is a camouflage. We invested in dead stock.