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Failure to appoint KEMRI director spells funding trouble

The failure for nearly a year to appoint a director for the Kenya Medical Research Institute is threatening the body’s financial future, Research Africa can reveal.

According to sources inside KEMRI who wished not to be named, the international donors that fund over 60 per cent of KEMRI’s programmes are reluctant to continue supplying money. The funders first want to know who they will be dealing with to ensure the money is safe and put to the intended use, the source said.

KEMRI has been without a permanent leader for more than nine months following the suspension of former boss Solomon Mpoke over allegations of misuse of funds.

Last September an audit of KEMRI’s donor funding found serious irregularities, which led to Mpoke’s suspension. Gerald Mkoji was appointed acting director.

But Mkoji has outstayed the six-month term after which, by Kenyan law, he is either meant to be made permanent in the role or be replaced by a substantive appointment.

Failure to move on this is prompting speculation about whether politics has a hand in the delay. The KEMRI board is mandated to advertise and recruit a director from qualified people without much reference to the parent ministry of health.

The stalemate, which has stalled progress at the institution, is also causing worries in Kenyan medical and research circles.

The delay in appointing a substantive director for KEMRI is the latest in a string of controversies at the research body.

In 2010, former director David Koech was suspended after several million shillings disappeared from KEMRI’s coffers. Koech sued KEMRI for wrongful termination. The issue has yet to be finalised in the courts.

In another scandal an administrative KEMRI officer was reportedly paid US$7,500 to “boost her morale” from money given to the institution by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.