We have not handled the health sector well. The ongoing doctors’ strike and its impact is the price society pays for mismanaging a highly sensitive sector. It is a factor of an insensitive National Government usurping devolved functions and funds without intending to give back anything, except cosmetic tokens and official mirage.
We are wallowing in the mess that a people must sink into when Government is about “eating meat” while “others salivate,” as President Uhuru Kenyatta says. Under these circumstances, those who drive the system don’t even believe in it. They don’t have to. It doesn’t matter. The important thing here is “the meat.” The rest is about showbiz, catwalks and allied political drama. Accordingly, none of the government officials in this drama has use for public hospitals. They only go there for photo opportunities and related official cowboy activities.
You cannot expect them to address the issues that doctors have raised for more than three years now. They don’t give a damn, as they say in America. I repeat. That is not why they are here. They are here “to eat meat.” They know that the systems are not working; and they really don’t care. Nor do they care that patients are dying. The only thing that matters now is how to make the doctors look bad in the public eye. If we could blackmail the medics with catch phrases like “insensitivity,” “the Hippocratic Oath,” and allied emotive idiom, we could get them to return to work and ourselves back to business as usual. This matter goes back to June 2013. A brand new Jubilee Government signed a collective bargaining agreement with the medics. They agreed to certain terms. Three years on, they have not delivered. Worse still, they have avoided talking to the health workers on this matter over the period. This is despite everyone seeing the gathering clouds.
Meanwhile on Friday February 7, 2015, the National Government signed contracts with five international companies from India, Italy, the United States, The Netherlands and China for the supply of leased medical equipment for the 47 counties. The leases are supposed to last up to ten years. They will cost Sh38 billion. This was done under secretive and suspicious circumstances.
The equipment was then forced upon the counties, including those that had already made alternative affordable arrangements. If this Government can afford Sh38 billion for equipment that is today lying idle in hospitals across the country, why can it not agree with health workers on their stipend? Sh40,000 per month for a doctor is a cruel joke.
But it also turns out that the leased equipment was sourced through a company owned by a sister to a very powerful individual in the National Government. There was no competitive bidding. Those behind this deal did not even bother about the personnel who would operate the equipment, or if the necessary supportive infrastructure was in place. They did not even factor in repairs and maintenance. The only thing that mattered was to seal the deal. It was all about making a quick business kill. This is what Government seems to be about these days. The doctors’ strike comes in the wake of a Sh5.2 billion mystery about “mobile clinics,” acquired at about 20 times the cost. The procurement was feverish. Even internal audits show that “mobilisation fees” were paid the same day the tenders were issued. Six months later, the “clinics” are lying idle in some yard at the coast.
Health is a fully devolved function, as we have said. Why does this Government cling on it? Why can’t it let go? Consider that for the first two years of the Jubilee Government, the budget lines in the Ministry of Health remained exactly the way they had been before devolution. This is to say that while the services had been devolved, the funds remained with the National Government. Despite keeping the funds, they could not address the wage crises in the sector. In the third year, they removed the devolved budget lines but placed the funds under different budget heads. The question remains, what are they doing with these monies?
In the end, the citizen is a fool. The stupidity of it all begins with the belief that no matter how useless they may be, we must defend the people in power, for so long as they are from our village. Yet even in the little village called Emanyulia, we can’t trust the cook if he will not eat from the same pot with us. Time is nigh. We must re-educate ourselves about the institution of Government and why governments are constituted among men and women.
Governments exist to serve. Those who ask for State office basically apply to be servants. Yet you see them everywhere, shouting at us, angrily. We see people who are veritably drunk with power, abusing those who raise legitimate questions about the performance of this Jubilee Government. You must be forgiven if you begin imagining that the country is the personal property of the individuals in power. The rest of us seem to be their vassals. We are heaps of rubbish. That is why whenever we raise issues, their response is uncontrolled display of anger at public rallies.
The people in power need to wake up to the reality that the country is not their personal property. They therefore need to listen keenly when Kenyans speak to them. Right now health workers are asking to be listened to. The Government needs to engage them in sober dialogue. But this Government also needs to let go of devolved services as well as the funds to support them.
For those who imagine that citizens are just heaps of dry rubbish there is need to remember that all dry rubbish risks catching fire on some windy day. Then some people will know how to shout at rubbish at public rallies, when they should instead be engaging citizens in sober conversation.
Photo Credits: Reuters