Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bamalete Hospital’s repeated dose of lies sickens workers

BY EDGAR TSIMANE

It’s been more than twenty years of a pitiful wait by the Bamalete Lutheran Hospital (BLH) ancillary staff.

For all these years, workers at the Mission hospital were promised salary upgrades together with associated benefits sanctioned by the Ministry of Health.

That was not to be.

The BLH elected to administer a dose of lies on employees with wanton glee all these years. There has been a false impression from the hospital management and board that something was being done to address employees’ expectations.

Workers maintain, as they have previously done, that corruption at the Mission hospital stinks to high heaven.

“They have been lying to us all these years claiming they are requesting funds from government to upgrade us. The board has been looting the hospital with their chosen friends in management. Management and senior officers advance themselves thousands of pula. At the same time they have written to Bank ABC not to provide us with loans because they are retrenching,” a shop steward decried. 

Some of the employees’ allegations, untested until a final report is released to put closure on the matter, were partially confirmed by a forensic audit of 2017 which led to the suspension of the chief executive officer Moagi Mmitsi together with the Bamalete Lutheran School of Nursing principal Martha Mothibe in 2018.

The issues are the same old ones repeating themselves even to this day. Employees speak of a coterie of friends in senior positions who give themselves salary advances, promotions to their chosen few and enjoy medical aid cover all the same dipping their sticky fingers in the hospital kitty while the lowly paid ancillary workers are denied the perks they are entitled to.   

The BLH employees are deprived of a 15 % shift allowance enjoyed by their counterparts in Mission hospitals despite the Ministry of Health having announced such entitlement. They are denied a 25 % government stipulated salary advance. They have not been upgraded or promoted since government came to the party with a 100% funding of the hospital.

The workers are denied loans by micro-lenders including Bank ABC after the hospital wrote to the bank claiming retrenchments were imminent at the hospital last April effectively instructing lenders not to expedite personal loan applications by employees.

No retrenchments took place at the BLH last April nor this year.

Incinerator operators have been on the A1 salary scale bracket for more than two decades while their counterparts are pegged at B1 salary scale. Ambulance drivers that were stagnated at a B4 scale for ten years in a bracket which attracts a B3 scale have not been back paid.

Ironically, a temporary Boiler Operator worker at Princess Marina Hospital enjoyed a B2 scale in 2014 while permanent employees at the BLH on a similar position are on A1 salary scale.  

Through a savingram by the Ministry of Health dated 11 November 2002, the BLH has been advised by the ministry that “the Hospital and Government have agreed that Mission employees will be subjected to similar conditions of service as they pertains (sic) in Government.”  The BLH is run by the government of Botswana together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission (ELM) in the same fashion that parastatals are run.

A glimmer of hope at the BLH beckoned with the arrival of an acting Hospital Superintendent, Dr. Thato Sarona who, employees tell us, was amenable to worker’s grievances. Lo and behold the hospital board purged him.

Dr. Sarona’s contract with the BLH was not renewed. The BLH Board chairperson who is also the council chairman for the South East District Council, Phenyo Segokgo, confirmed without giving reasons why Dr. Sarona’s contract was not renewed. Sarona served the hospital for six months from 1st August 2018 and left on 31st January 2019.

He was the darling of aggrieved workers who in him had high hopes during his short stint at the hospital. He is credited for, among other achievements, introducing initiatives towards improved financial management, compliance with procurement requirements as stipulated by the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board PPADB Act, resolution of longstanding internal customers’ grievances, introduction of grievance register, introduction of weekly inter-departmental morning report meetings and weekly clinical meetings.

“Basically it [the appointment] was a permanent and pensionable employment. At the end of the probation, I was informed the Board, at its own discretion, took a decision that it’s in their best interest that we part ways. Commenting on the issues you raise regarding employees’ grievances will contravene the confidentiality clause,” Sarona told the Sunday Standard.

Sarona’s purge isn’t something the hospital board worries much about. Segokgo was at pains to explain why the acting Superintendent failed to fit in the BLH organisation. He denied the purge as claimed by employees. 

“We reached an amicable agreement not to renew his contract. As such I am not in a position to share reasons why we did not renew his contract with third parties,” Segokgo told the Sunday Standard.

But that was after he had berated employees for running to the media with issues which he claimed the board was at the verge of resolving despite having sat on them for a long time.

He said board members have addressed employees regarding the obtaining stalemate in February this year claiming he was he was on top of issues.

That claim however is being contested by the BLH employees who, as a last resort, have since petitioned President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi to be the final arbiter with no fewer than 89 signatures appended to the petition.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Mission in Lower Saxony operates worldwide, sending staff out to the Lutheran churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America and financially supporting their communities and projects.

In 2007 it was working in cooperation with 19 churches in 17 countries. The main focus of effort is in Ethiopia. It has a presence in southern Africa, in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland. In Latin America it operates in Brazil and Peru, India and non-European Russia.

In addition to theologians the ELM dispatches medical specialists, teachers, craftsmen and farming and administrative experts abroad. It has an annual voluntary programme to give young men the opportunity to work with a partner church and experience different cultures.

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