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KEMRI director breaks silence over graft claims

The Kenya Medical Research Institute has confirmed that it has terminated hundreds of staff and is investigating fund management following the premature depletion of a grant from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

KEMRI’s director, Solomon Mpoke, acknowledged in a statement on 11 May that the institution’s joint programme with the CDC, mainly based in Kisumu in Western Kenya and Nairobi, had used all its money.

The shortfall is threatening the programme’s operations until the end of the financial year on 14 August, the statement reads. The KEMRI board is investigating the causes of the shortfall, but has been forced to issue termination notices to 488 members of staff as it cannot pay salaries.

The statement is the KEMRI director’s first public comment on allegations that emerged in the Kenyan media in late March. At that time newspapers reported that the institution was under investigation by the CDC, which funds most of its programmes, after a 7.2 billion Kenyan shilling (US$80 million) budget had been depleted prematurely.

Mpoke said in his statement that KSh7.2bn was not the actual shortfall, but the budget of the entire five-year cycle of the CDC-KEMRI Collaborative Agreement (CoAg) programme that ends in August.

As a result of the depletion of the funding, there is no money to pay staff on the programme from May until mid-August, he said.

Mpoke described the situation as “highly regrettable”, but he added that KEMRI will recall the fired staff if funds become available again. The institute has already submitted an application to the CDC for funding for another five-year CoAg cycle, to begin  in August.

He said that essential services within the KEMRI-CDC programmes, such as research projects involving the provision of treatment to HIV patients and other vulnerable groups, will continue uninterrupted.

CDC has partnered KEMRI for over 35 years on research into HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, emerging infections, neglected tropical diseases, and other public health issues.