Trouble is brewing at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) as disappointed staff bitterly complain about corruption, nepotism and mismanagement by acting Director General Prof Elija Songok.
According to sources within the institution, morale is at historic low and important research work has ground to halt due to graft.
To make matters worse, there has been no substantive DG or CEO at Kemri for three years since Prof Yeri Kombe retired. Prof Sam Kariuki who was in acting capacity until March 2023 took a sabbatical leave due to frustrations.
He handed over to Prof Elija Songok who was imposed by the Principal Secretary for Health Engineer Peter Tum. Songok had been serving as the director of research.
Songok was elevated to the position in dubious circumstances reeking of nepotism. Tum, PS for health is a village mate (they are actually next door neighbors) to Songok. They have a relationship going back decades and are close family friends.
When Tum’s children were studying in Canada, it’s Songok who hosted them in his house.
Curiously, Songok is earning double salary as the acting DG Kemri and also as a staffer at University of Manitoba in Canada. He is actually a Canadian citizen is its curious how a dual citizen can be appointed to head such an important Kenyan institution.
The biggest case of corruption involves a product developbed by Kemri known as Ujiplus.
While serving as the director of research, Songok led the team of researchers that came up with Ujiplus, a herbal flour to be used in fighting neglected tropical diseases.
Ujiplus is a fortified herbal formulation designed to be taken as a school meal snack for both nutrition and deworming.
Scientists at Kemri developed the integrated deworming and nutritious porridge but in a move that stinks of corruption, Songok grabbed the product and is privately selling it.
Usually when Kemri comes up with a product like this, it is sent to the commercial department which sells it to generate revenue for the research institution.
In a move that should interest EACC, Songok founded a company known as Terik Foods and Nutraceuticals Limited which now produces and sells Ujiplus yet the product was developed by Kemri.
Interestingly, Terik is the name of the sub clan in Nandi community where he hails from.
To make matters worse he has roped in his 2 sons into this corrupt scheme. The boys operate a shop just next to Kemri headquarters in Nairobi where they sell the Ujiplus. The sons also live in his official Kemri residence.
When Tum served as the CEO of KMTC, he had a personal assistant known as Barnabas Kimatoi. The he has since seconded the same guy to serve as Songok’s PA.
There are also irregular appointments and promotions happening under Songok’s watch at Kemri.
He has promoted his cronies and partners in dubious dealings to influential and lucrative positions.
Songok has removed Dr Kizito Lubano as director of research and development and replaced him with a Dr Nelly Mugo with who Songok has business interests with.
Dr Mugo runs an NGO known as Partners in Health Research and Development (PHRD) which is funded by Kemri. She runs the NGO with a Dr David Bukusu whose spouse Prof Elizabeth Bukusu also work at Kemri.
Another case of conflict of interest involves Dr Onono Maricianah who runs an NGO known as Kargeno Group. Kargeno group focuses on sexual reproductrive adolescent and child health.
Songok has appointed Dr Onono to be director of scientific programs and partnerships while still running the NGO.
In another case of malpractice at Kemri, the director, legal, Martin Machira whose contract is lapsing in August 2023 is irregularly pushing the HR committee of Kemri board to renew his contract.
Machira has blatantly continued to engage external lawyers are exorbitant cost to the institute against government directive when he should be the one going to court to represent the institution.
Another issue if the irregular hiring of the internal auditor. When James Mwangi was serving as internal auditor, he exposed a lot of rot in the finance department including the cash purchases totaling Shs 52 million which were highlighted in Auditor General Report 2020/21.
So the finance director Antony Wachira hatched a plot to get Mwangi out of the way. Wachira colluded with an intern who he had an affair with to falsely accuse Mwangi with attempted rape. The intern entered Mwangi’s office at noon and started screaming that Mwangi wanted to rape her.
When Mwangi was suspended over the issue, Wachira arranged for his own cousin Patrick Gitau to be seconded from treasury as the acting internal auditor.
When Wachira was made the acting director of Corporate Services, he used the position to confirm Gitau as the internal auditor even before Mwangi’s case was heard and determined.
Mwangi was eventually cleared by court and reinstated to his job but his office had been irregularly filled. Now Kemri has 2 internal auditors.
Another problem causing low morale within Kemri is the failure by Songok to pay some 2.27 billion shillings owed to unionisable staff as extraneous allowance.