U.S. halts aid to Kenya amid corruption scandal

Africa | Suspended funds covered wages and travel costs for the country’s Health Ministry
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 5/15/17, 11:13 am

The United States has suspended $21 million in direct aid to Kenya’s Health Ministry amid corruption allegations. 

The U.S. Embassy in a statement said the suspension covers only a portion of U.S. aid to Kenya, which totals about $650 million annually. The move is necessary both to ensure aid reaches the people in most need and also to protect U.S. taxpayer money, officials said. 

“We took this step because of ongoing concern about reports of corruption and weak accounting procedures at the ministry,” embassy staff said in a statement. “We are working with the ministry on ways to improve accounting and internal controls and hope to restore the funding when appropriate progress is made.”

The suspended aid covered wages and travel costs, among other expenses. But the U.S. aid agency will continue to provide anti-retroviral therapy and some other drugs and services offered outside the ministry, the embassy said. 

Kenya’s Health Ministry has been riddled by scandal in the past year. An audit report leaked in October showed the ministry could not account for its use of about $49 million. It also diverted some funds allocated for free maternity care. The Kenyan government sparked more frustration when it transferred the health agency’s principal secretary to work in the same capacity in another ministry following the scandal. 

Kenyan doctors and nurses went on strike from December to March, complaining of poor working conditions without necessary equipment and demanding a pay increase. They criticized the U.S. move despite concerns over fraud. 

“The USAID decision is going to affect the health sector severely,” Ouma Oluga of the Kenyan medical union told the Standard Digital news site

But Health Minister Cleopa Maliu said the suspension would not affect the ministry’s services and reiterated the department’s increased push for accountability.

“We wish to assure development partners and the people of the ministry’s commitment to prudent financial management and accountability for resources placed under our stewardship,” Maliu told Kenya’s The Star newspaper

Ralia Odinga, the opposition presidential candidate, said the scandal has put an end to needed financial support for battling malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other essential health programs. 

“We expressed concern that the mess at the Ministry of Health could antagonize donor agencies that have been at the forefront of financing key health programs … unless it was addressed comprehensively with the criminals punished,” Odinga said in a statement.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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