NAIROBI (Reuters) – The chairman of a powerful committee in the Kenyan parliament on Tuesday demanded that Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o resign over a scandal involving payments by the state medical insurance fund to “phantom” hospitals.
In the latest corruption scam to hit east Africa’s biggest economy, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a parliamentary watchdog that tracks government spending, says millions of shillings in medical claims were paid by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to health facilities before they were even established.
Some payments were also made to hospitals that did not qualify to receive funds from the NHIF, the committee has said.
Legislator Bonny Khalwale, who is also the PAC chairman, asked Nyong’o to resign over the scam.
“It would be good for us to be told how much money has been stolen to date … Is the minister now prepared to do the honorable thing to take political responsibility and resign?” Khalwale told parliament.
“I would like the minister to confirm whether the bank accounts of the companies with phantom clinics have been frozen,” he added.
The scandal has further divided the power-sharing government set up to end bloody post-election violence, piling pressure on Prime Minister Raila Odinga to fire Nyong’o, who is his strong ally.
Odinga on Monday suspended the NHIF’s board for three months to allow for an investigation.
LACK OF POLITICAL WILL
Nyong’o, who has denied all wrongdoing, told parliament he too was keen to unravel the scam.
“There is nothing that I as the minister would like to hide regarding the NHIF affair. I am as concerned as the members to get to the bottom of this,” Nyong’o said.
Although a number of cabinet ministers have faced corruption accusations in the past year, no senior politician or cabinet minister has been jailed for the offence.
Analysts say there is a lack of political will to end graft that has tarnished the tea-producing country’s reputation.
Some ministers have stepped down following accusations of graft, only to be reinstated to cabinet months later after being cleared of wrongdoing.
There is greater public scrutiny of the NHIF’s operations because it is expected to handle more money than before after launching a new scheme in January to provide medical coverage for more than 220,000 civil servants at an annual cost of 4.3 billion shillings ($51.71 million).
The NHIF angered many Kenyans after announcing plans to deduct higher contributions from workers’ salaries, a plan that was suspended by the government on Tuesday after it bowed to public pressure and threats of a national strike.
Critics say the NHIF scandal could be a repeat of major financial scams that have bankrolled past election campaigns in a country where voters are due to cast their ballots by next March.