Sunday, September 16, 2012

We need to turn the page on this coalition

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 16 September 2012

On Thursday this past week doctors launched a nationwide strike, hot on the heels of several other unions.
In all these cases, the government response has been the fairly uniform one of ignoring the strike notice and hoping it will go away, and then wringing their hands helplessly once the strike is on.

In the case of doctors, a number of small strikes preceded the nationwide industrial action. There was a strike to protest non-payment of an agreed stipend to doctors undergoing postgraduate training at the three teaching hospitals, Kenyatta, Moi and Mathari. Despite an Industrial Court order protecting the strike, the minister issued a statement purporting to stop post-graduate training programmes and withdrawing the doctors’ right to practice medicine at the institutions.

Soon after this, another group of doctors – specialists teaching at the various university teaching hospitals – downed their tools protesting against the government’s failure to implement certain allowances that were part of the settlement after the December 2011 doctors’ strike. These allowances were paid selectively, with doctors in public universities, programmes, research institutions and even in parts of the civil service being ignored. Despite agreeing that it was an “oversight” on its part, the government is yet to act to correct this anomaly. 

Agreed formula

A common thread runs through these two strikes and the subsequent nationwide strike. All the issues being canvassed were agreed on in the return to work formula signed between the government and the doctors’ union.

The formula provided for the formation of a taskforce to address longstanding problems in the health sector, the employment of more doctors, payment of fees and a stipend for doctors undergoing specialist training, and payment of new allowances to all doctors in the public service. The formula also provided for the formation of negotiating teams and commencement of collective bargaining within a week of its signing.

The Musyimi Task Force was formed soon after the strike and completed its work, handing in the report to the ministries of Health in February. Among the team’s recommendations were a gradual increase in the health budget to achieve the 15 per cent target set in the Abuja declaration, improvements in health infrastructure and human resources.

Another major recommendation was the formation of a Health Service Commission, and a draft Bill was included as part of the report. Six months down the line, the ministries of Health have made no move to present this Bill to the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution or other relevant agencies for consideration.

The ministries have similarly ignored most of the other recommendations, including the designation of county referral facilities, establishment of a national ambulance service, and scaling up training of all health service cadres. Indeed, even the allowances agreed on in the return to work formula have been selectively paid out, despite the government’s insistence to the contrary.

An agreement to pay a stipend to medical doctors undergoing specialist training is now being trashed as unworkable, and the government has once again stopped sponsoring its own doctors to undertake specialist training.

In my opinion, the goings-on in the health sector and elsewhere provide ample evidence of a failed government, and it is the opinion of a silent majority that the sooner we see the back of this coalition the better.

Dr Atwoli is the Secretary of the Kenya Psychiatric Association and a Senior Lecturer at Moi University's School of Medicine.; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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