Flawed Relief: Irregularities in Kenya's COVID-19 Relief Program
10/24/2023 11:46 in Opinion

By Shirley Wandera

Startling revelations have emerged over the Kenyan response to the global Covid-19 pandemic. In April 2020, former President Uhuru Kenyatta established a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund Board comprising key business leaders in the country tasked with overseeing the management of resources to combat the economic impact of the pandemic.

A special audit report from the Auditor General examining the utilization of COVID-19 funds allocated to national government entities from March 13 to July 31, 2020, has brought disconcerting findings.

According to the report, the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund received 2.6 billion Kenyan Shillings. Among the allocations was a substantial sum of 400 million Kenyan Shillings, designated for a Cash Transfer Program. This program aimed to provide financial assistance to 100,000 Kenyans in urban informal settlements for one month.

The board approved the plan, and in June 2020, 400 million Kenyan Shillings were disbursed to M-Pesa Holding Company Limited, tasked with channeling funds to the designated beneficiaries over one month.

In addition to the 400 million Shillings, the Mombasa County Budget Review for the financial year 2019/2020 reveals that the county received grants for COVID-19 funds worth 100 million Shillings.

However, allegations have since emerged, shedding light on how the COVID-19 cash transfer program in Mombasa County had irregularities.

According to Mwanahamisi Abdalla, a local community leader in Utange, Kitaruni area, the County Government Ward Administrator created a committee to identify vulnerable households.

Mwanahamisi Abdalla, local community leader "Mama mtaa" in Utange, Kitaruni area

“As the elders of the locality, identifying people who had no means was easy because they are people we live with here, they are people from our community, so it was an easier task for us to identify those who deserved to benefit from the cash transfer program,” said Mwanahamisi.

The criteria used in selecting beneficiaries considered people who were employed but rendered jobless due to COVID-19, persons within a family setup, and those who had not been beneficiaries of funds from any Government-related intervention.

However, there were cases of individuals from vulnerable households registered for the program but never received funding.

Geoffrey Mangi, one such individual, shared his experience, stating, “Initially, I registered at Mama Mtaa, but our names were corrupted. The second time, I registered with Mzee wa Mtaa but still did not receive anything,” said Mangi. "When I missed the fund during the first attempt, I was advised to reapply, and I was registered again. This left me in a state of despair with no clear avenue to address my concerns and seek assistance,” he added.

Geoffrey Mangi shares his experience of missing out on the Covid-19 cash transfer fund

It allegedly appears that the Ward Administrator employed a questionable methodology in registering beneficiaries. Instead of relying on local elders, the administrator enlisted youth leaders to handle the task.

“Some missed out because the Ward Administrator instructed the local elders to register residents in their areas. However, the Ward Administrator used individuals, such as youth leaders from the same area, to register vulnerable households. We had to verify the names. We each received a list for crosschecking. As we scrutinized the lists, we discovered unfamiliar names that were not part of our respective areas since we had personally registered individuals we knew,” Mwanahimisi revealed.

Mwanahamisi's account reveals that beneficiaries were in the dark about the assistance they were entitled to, and the blame was often shifted onto purported 'computer errors' when questioned.

“When we sought clarification, they said there were computer errors. When the funds finally reached the recipients, we probed further, asking the beneficiaries whether they received anything. Disappointingly, the response was consistently negative, with recipients stating they had not received anything,” she added.

Allegations of corruption became apparent that those who held the authority to register residents not only profited from their positions but also favored their own family and friends in the process.

Utange resident Peter Karanja, responsible for household registration explains how the program was conducted

“For example, people were receiving four thousand shillings from the Red Cross, and people would tell their friends - 'Let me register you, but when you receive the funds, you will send me a thousand shillings out of the four thousand. If they registered ten friends, they would have already benefited, and maybe they were registered also,” explained Mwanahamisi.

Revelations shared by another resident tasked with registering vulnerable households further expose how they discovered cases where the national identification (ID) cards pertained to residents. Still, the mobile phone numbers were registered to individuals from Nairobi, introducing an unsettling element of identity mismatch.

"When we were tasked with the verification of registered households, we encountered situations where the ID numbers corresponded to residents, yet the associated phone numbers originated from different regions. I vividly recall a particular phone call I made that rang to Isiolo. The ID number and name on the recipient's profile indicated 'Mama Fatuma,' however, the phone number in use belonged to an individual located in Isiolo," recounted Peter Karanja.

To clarify the allegations raised by Mwanahamisi and Peter Karanja, diligent efforts were made to contact the Ward Administrator and the County Government of Mombasa for clarification. However, despite attempts to establish communication, these endeavors yielded no response, raising critical questions about the transparency and accountability of the COVID-19 cash transfer program in Mombasa.

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