Medical doctors in public hospitals resurfaced yesterday, this time issuing a three-day ultimatum to President Jakaya Kikwete to sack the Minister for Health Dr Haji Mponda and his deputy, Dr Lucy Nkya.
The doctors want the minister and his deputy sacked before Wednesday, warning they would resume the strike if the government failed to fire the two.
The doctors issued this as their main condition that should be implemented before starting any negotiation with the government.
The position was issued yesterday during a one-day meeting held at the Waterfront Hall, not far from the central police station, where a committee representing all sections of doctors in negotiation with the government met. They exchanged views on the latest developments in their fight for better pays.
The doctors’ ultimatum was a reminder that the medics’ strike that severely hampered hospital services and caused scores of deaths among patients and put the government on tenterhooks is not gone yet.
The doctors managed to hold the government hostage during the crisis, as they stuck to their demands, defying an earlier threat to sack them issued by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda.
The government represented by the Premier, insisted that it was impossible for the doctors’ demand for better pay to be implemented fully, as their proposed salary increase from Sh957,700 to Sh3.5 million at entry point for newly employed doctors and a cap of Sh17 million for top specialists, would cost 69 percent of the total public servants’ wages bill.
The current salaries budget for civil servants stands at Sh2.39 trillion ($1.4 billion) a year, but if doctors’ demands are fully met, the bill would jump to a whopping Sh3.45 trillion ($2.12billion).
To put things into perspective, the doctors’ salary would cost 69 percent of the total wage bill annually.
They said failure by the government to remove Dr Mponda and Dr Nkya from their portfolios by Wednesday would compel them to resume their strike, warning that this time around the strike would be more painful than the recently ended one.
Doctors warned that since the same ministerial political leaders failed to solve their problems in the first place, forcing them to down tools, they no longer had confidence in their fulfilling what would be agreed during the planned negotiations.
On Friday, the doctors’ negotiating team met with the government’s team formed by Premier Pinda following a letter from the government to discuss developments reached since the premier met with the doctors on February 9.
At the meeting the appointed committee hoped that they would meet with the doctors for negotiation right away, but the doctors refused the idea, demanding that the requisite environment be created first for fruitful negotiations, insisting that this was as important as the negotiation process itself.
With that argument, the committee from the doctors’ side proposed three major steps as a roadmap towards the negotiation process.
Sacking the minister and his deputy because their presence in the two positions amounts to guaranteeing the lack of implementation of any accords is thus the doctors’ preliminary demand.
“The sacking of these officials was necessary right from the beginning of our negotiations with the prime minister…the presence of these the two officials would hamper the implementation of our eventual accords with the government,” said Godbless Charles, deputy chairperson of MAT.
MAT’s Deputy Chairperson said since the Prime Minister has no appointing authority and therefore lacks the power to fire the embattled minister and his deputy, they are surprised that the President has not sacked the two ministers.
The doctors see the Minister and his deputy as the major stumbling block toward the implementation of their demands by the government.
According to a statement read by the doctors’ negotiation committee yesterday, there would only be meaningful negotiations after the minister and his deputy are removed from their offices.
The third and last step is the signing of the negotiation agreement and the immediate implementation of what has been agreed.
Responding to reports that the doctors boycotted negotiations with the government, Charles described the report as false and highly distorted.
“First of all we walked out of the meeting room prior to the start of the negotiations and our point was clear, that it was us, doctors who sought for audience with the government. Now we wonder where these other groups came from,” he queried.
The doctors’ committee thought the strategy used by the government to include other health practitioners was not negotiations but something else, arguing that negotiations would not involve five groups or more at the same table.
The doctors insisted that what they are asking from the government initially is a good working environment and other demands on a long list may be dealt with later on.
On Janury 23 medical doctors across the country went on strike in a bid to push the government to respond positively to their demands. Some of those demands include improved working facilities, vast pay rise and improved rates of on-call allowances.
Others include restoration of housing facility or instead housing allowances as stipulated in Civil Service Standing Orders which list medical doctors as among entitled officers irrespective of their salary levels, but were stripped of this entitlement by a 2010 secular from the Treasury.
Doctors wanted also Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Blandina Nyoni and Chief Medical Officer Dr Deo Mtasiwa sacked. The duo were finally suspended through order by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda who had earlier failed in his warning to doctors that they would be sacked within 48 hours if they did not heed to his call to end the strike.
The doctors’ strike that lasted for 17 days paralysed the entire health sector, resulting to as yet unrecorded deaths.