Minister calls for end to Tšepong strike

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…as PS reveals forensic audit is underway at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital

By Tefo Tefo and Limpho Sello

MASERU — The Minister of Health Dr Pinkie Manamolela yesterday said government is scrutinising the contract it entered into with Tšepong (Pty) Ltd for the operation of the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
Dr Manamolela was addressing a press conference in the wake of an industrial action, which turned violent when the police tried to disperse hospital workers picketing outside the state-of-the-art facility.

Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, which was opened amid pomp and fanfare in October 2011, is 70 percent owned by the Tšepong consortium while the Lesotho government owns the remaining 30 percent.

Tšepong (Pty) Limited is comprised of South Africa’s Netcare Hospital Group (Pty) Ltd (40 percent); Excel Health Services (20 percent) –– an investment company for Lesotho-based specialists and general practitioners ; Afrinnai Health (Pty) Ltd (20 percent) an investment company for Bloemfontein-based specialists and doctors; D10 Investments (Pty) Ltd (10 percent) the investment arm of the Mohloli Chamber of Business; and Woman Investment Company (Pty) Ltd (10 percent) a Basotho Women investment company.

Touted as the model of Public Private Investment Partnership, the showpiece 390-bed hospital replaced the 100-year-old, crumbling 450-bed Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.
But the hospital has since been beset by problems, with workers accusing management of racism and maliciously refusing to increase their salaries, among a host of disputes, while the administration continues to deny the accusations.

Members of the public have also complained about the service at the hospital, which they say is worse than what was being offered at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.
After protracted wage-negotiations between management, the Ministry of Health and the Lesotho Workers’ Association (LEWA) deadlocked — management was offering a four percent salary increase, while the employees demanded a complete overhaul of the entire wage structure — the workers downed tools yesterday morning, and all hell broke loose.
When the police went to the hospital to disperse the striking workers, who were reportedly attacking their colleagues who wanted to continue with their duties, the violence went out of hand, resulting in the shooting of seven of the workers.

The police yesterday said an investigation had been launched into the shooting, and anyone found guilty would be brought before the courts of law.

However, addressing a charged press conference held at the Ministry of Health headquarters, Dr Manamolela said the Tšepong-government deal was being seriously looked into.
“We are currently in the process of scrutinising the contract between government and the Tšepong consortium to see if the contract is still being complied with, either by the government or the consortium.
“But we don’t agree with the ongoing strike because we regularly meet with the workers’ representatives to discuss a way out of their concerns.
“Indeed, the workers should demand their salary increment from Tšepong because we (government) give money to Tšepong as we outsource from them (Tšepong).
“It is not proper for workers to engage in strike action at this point when negotiations are still underway, more especially when people are in dire need of their services. This strike is unlawful,” the Minister said.

According to Dr Manamolela, to illustrate that negotiations were still underway, she had organised a meeting with the workers’ representatives on Tuesday, who however, did not turn up.
“They used to criticise us for not sharing with them, relevant information regarding the hospital, but it’s surprising that after we disclosed everything to them, they resorted to this strike.
“Things are now at a standstill regarding the salary increment they are demanding, because when workers demand their wage-increment, Tšepong says it doesn’t get enough money from the government.
“But you will notice that 51-percent of the Ministry of Health’s budget has been allocated to that hospital alone this financial year.
“Tšepong demanded more money from the government for workers’ salary adjustments on grounds that they (Tšepong) did not anticipate that the government would review civil servants’ salaries last year.
“They are not being honest because Tšepong workers complained about salary adjustments even before the government considered increasing civil servants’ salaries.”

Dr Manamolela further said it was not easy to resolve the problems at Tšepong “at once” because “Tšepong is what we have inherited from the previous government.”
The Minister further called on the workers to call-off the strike as government was taking their concerns very seriously.
“They are still on strike; they are not doing what is right for the patients; they are ill-treating the patients.
“We have a committee of ministers where we are discussing the Tšepong issue because we really want it resolved”.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Health’s Principal Secretary, Mr Lefu Manyokole, told yesterday’s press briefing that the ministry had already requested a forensic audit of the hospital’s finances.
“The forensic report will reveal how finances are being utilised at the hospital. This will give a clear picture of how the funds are being utilised,” he said.

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