By MWAKERA MWAJEFA
The European Union, through its Kenya ambassador Simon Mordue, has donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to the Kenya Ports Authority frontline staff at the Port of Mombasa to support COVID 19 response efforts.
During a two-day visit of Mombasa County on August 20, 2020, the ambassador visited Governor Hassan Joho accompanied by East African Community permanent secretary Kevit Desai before also visiting KPA where he was met by acting managing director Rashid Salim and Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) country director Ahmed Farah.
But this comes at the backdrop of Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) scandal and Ministry of Health corruption claims where billion of shillings meant for PPEs amounting to Sh2.5 billion cannot be accounted for.
The funds were part of the Sh23 billion the ministry received from the Treasury and the World Bank to fight the COVID 19 pandemic which is currently under probe by the National Assembly’s health committee.
The EU delivery will meet the needs of the 2,730 KPA, Port Police, Kenya Revenue Authority staff, Port Health staff operating at the port that will sustain them for 60 days. The frontline staff was prioritised due to being first responders and most vulnerable dealing with port health, first aiders and handling cargo as it arrives.
The PPE’s include reusable masks, hand sanitizers, hand washing points, disinfectant spray, infrared thermometer, reusable safety boots, full protective PPE for front line health workers, N95 face masks and face shields as agreed with KPA in consultation with KRA and port health and advice from medical agencies at regional and international levels.
Identified as COVID 19 hotspot in the initial stages of the pandemic, the port facility came under scrutiny after a number of its employees succumbed to the dreaded disease forcing the health ministry to direct mass testing of its staff in all departmental cadres.
EU is the largest donor to Kenya’s component of TMEA’s Safe Trade Emergency Facility (STEF) programme with a contribution of Ksh600 million (EUR 5 million). It is under this programme that the PPE delivery has been made as part EU’s wider support for mitigation against the spread of COVID-19 and promotion of continuous safe trade in Kenya.
The delivery to Port of Mombasa is critical as the port is the main entry point into East Africa through the Northern Corridor.
Soon after Kenya experienced its first COVID-19 case on March13, 2020, KPA, which has about 7,000 employees was identified as the epicentre of infections in Mombasa prompting a series of tough measures including scanning of people entering the port and also ships docking.
In his remarks at the August 20 event, ambassador Mordue said: “The Port of Mombasa is the most important gateway to East Africa. To make this port a safe place to work is yet another important step to ensure the flow of goods to support the economy and livelihoods of all people involved.”
This was appreciated by the Ministry of Health chief administrative officer Dr. Rashid Aman saying the continued EU’s support to Kenya’s fight against COVID-19 will go a long way to tame the pandemic. There were 31,015 COVID-19 confirmed cases as of August 19, 2020.
Said Dr Aman: “If this pandemic teaches us anything, it is that we do not have a choice between preserving life and reviving our economy.”
According to him it is apparent that Kenyans must acknowledge the linkages, intricacies and synergies between the economy and the public health.
“We may not have appreciated until now that public health must be at the centre of how we structure our economy,” he said adding that the delivered PPEs would protect the frontline workers at the port and border posts to ensure trade continues and economy bounces back.
PS Desai, on his part, praised KPA measures put in place to ensure the Port of Mombasa is safe for trade and thanked EU for promoting safety at other Kenya’s border crossing points such as Namanga, Isebania, Malaba, Busia and Moyale.
The government, according to him, is committed to continue enhancing efficiency of the corridor starting from this point of entry, so that the land linked countries continue to maximise the potential of international trade.
“We will continue being responsive to the needs of all stakeholders through policy reforms and uptake of innovative solutions in the operations of all our frontline regulatory staff at the points of entry,” he said.
In his brief remarks, KPA acting MD Salim said his management acknowledged the support gesture saying it was timely and crucial in ensuring the port continues to offer world class services and operations that largely contribute to the regional economy.
The port has established 147 hand washing points, mass testing of staff and port users, online cargo documentation processes, fumigation of port premises, distribution of PPEs to staff, release of staff aged above 58 years and those with pre-existing medical conditions to work from home.
“So far, no crew of any ship calling at the Port has tested positive. This demystifies the misconception that COVID-19 at the Port is being transmitted by cargo ships,” he added.
RUNNING SHORT OF SUPPLIES
At the time of this EU delivery, the port was running short of supplies of masks for its frontline staff because inadequate or no PPEs, especially for port health and security personnel, is causing delays in port entry and exit procedures.
During his visit the ambassador visited other projects that are contributing to the fight against COVID19, including the ongoing implementation of the Regional Cargo and Driver Tracking System (RECDTS) which the EU among other donors is funding.
RECDTS has an inventory of driver’s COVID-19 tests and issues EAC regional recognised digital health certificates to registered long distance drivers.
This ensures they can cross East African borders without delays thus regulating flow of trade across the region.
Other interventions funded by the EU under the Safe Trade Emergency Facility (STEF) programme include: the installation of smart gates at the border; reengineering import and export process and procedures, and the development and implementation of relevant protocols to enhance efficient and safe trade.
Also, supporting trade policy, standards and sanitary and phytosanitary standards; policy advocacy and improving e-commerce; and the development of safe trade zones to support formal and informal traders at the borders.
As a result, TMEA has created a US$23 million (about Sh2.3 billion) STEF to support Eastern African governments to undertake critical measures along the transport and trade routes that will ensure trade continues safely while protecting livelihoods.
SAFE TRADE ZONE
This support is complemented by a grant from Ireland of more than Ksh10 million focusing on the establishment of a Safe Trade Zone for female cross border traders in Busia.
TMEA director Mr Farah said, “What we have learned through this crisis is that it is important to take quick action to protect the people ensuring critical supplies reach where they are needed; that coordinated action at the regional level is possible and that the pandemic could accelerate regional integration.”
According to him it has revealed importance of trade facilitation in times of crisis and especially in that supplies like food and medicine reach consumers adding that the crisis has magnified the importance of trade in ordinary development.
Following the Kemsa scandal, the Council of Governors has renewed calls to have counties allowed to procure drugs and other medical equipment directly that may open new loopholes for shady deals.
According to the CoG chair Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya Kemsa had taken advantage of its monopoly to shortchange Kenyans.
The governors had opposed the amendment to the Kemsa Act by seeking redress at the High Court to challenge section 3 of the Act that requires County governments to procure both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies from the author