Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Theekin Nests and Snouts in Troughs

Recent headlines from both Zambia and Britain have had a depressingly similar ring to them. Politicians and other public servants allegedly stealing or misusing public funds and engaging in activities that enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary citizens.

You’re all probably scunnered by the surfeit of reports of the jougerie-pawkery at Westminster; we are being treated to the spectacle here of operations coming to a standstill this week at Ndeke House – the Ministry of Health. Over 30 civil servants employed by the Ministry of Health have been suspended while a K27 billion scam is investigated, this is seemingly not the only one either, but could be the tip of the iceberg. Charges are expected to include obtaining money by false pretences, abuse of authority and forgery. This all really came to light and the alarm was raised when it became apparent that too many civil servants, public officers and government officials were living at levels far in excess of their earned income and many of the lodges, farms, houses, plots and businesses in the Lusaka area were owned by people working for the Government. Questions were asked how all this wealth was accumulated on modest civil service salaries.

The wonderful thing is that this investigation into matters at the Ministry of Health has apparently been given the go-ahead from the highest level. In the past the culture of plundering and looting by officials and politicians was entrenched and there was little accountability at any level of government, so asking citizens to account for their wealth is a relatively new concept here. The consequences has been to deny millions of needy Zambians access to healthcare which they desperately need but which at the best of times is limited and frankly inadequate.

How has all this affected Mwandi Mission Hospital, then, you may ask? Well, the grant from the Government has fallen from K16m (GBP 2000) in the Halcyon Days of President Mwanawasa to K4.5m (GBP500) for the past 4 months. In December we received nothing – obviously Christmas bonus time for someone somewhere but not for our patients here! We have been told to expect nothing for this month and next month.

The CHAZ (Churches’ Health Association of Zambia) Mission Workers (ancilliaries), paid but not employed by the government, went unpaid from September to February. We learned by investigation that the salary money in January was approved by the Ministry but was ‘diverted’ internally, so it never reached CHAZ – the Mission Hospital's Body. They will not be paid again until this mess is cleared up.

We could not appoint another Doctor in our establishment as the positon for Mwandi was being filled by the notorious Dr Michael Mouse. The Government had officially allocated 11 government Health Worker posts to Mwandi. We ended up with an allocation of three cleaners, two of whom drive our ambulances and the third is our cashier! The payslips for the other eight deployed elsewhere inadvertently arrived at our office.

Another contributing factor to hastening this action may be that Sweden and the Netherlands have frozen funding to the health sector until investigations are concluded. Naturally we have had the usual crocodile tears begging the two countries to reconsider their freezing of financial aid because ordinary Zambians are the ones who will suffer. But ordinary Zambians are likely to continue to do so if funding is resumed without a comprehensive audit being done to ensure those suspected of corruption are prosecuted and safeguards put in place to ensure better governance, accountability and transparency.

Our TB patients, the HIV+ mother and baby, the chronically malnourished children suffering from dysentery and malaria and the lowly paid ancillary staff who attend them, suffering here and elsewhere nationwide deserve no less.

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