Salaries Scam Rocks Health Ministry

THE profligate President Emmerson Mnangagwa administration is spending millions of dollars per month on double salaries and allowances for senior officials in the Ministry of Health and Child Care despite a clean-up operation promised by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga. Chiwenga also oversees the operations of the health sector.

Investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent show that directors who were sent on forced leave to pave way for corruption investigations over three months ago are still receiving their full salaries, while at the same time those who were elevated to act in their positions are enjoying similar perks.

Chiwenga has been superintending over the extensive restructuring process since last month when he was appointed Health minister after Obadiah Moyo was sacked from the position on July 7, at a time Zimbabwe is battling to contain the novel coronavirus.

Moyo’s sacking from cabinet arose from allegations that he unprocedurally awarded a shadowy company called Drax International a US$60 million contract for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the fight against Covid-19. Mnangagwa’s sons, Emmerson Jr and Collins were linked to the multi-million-dollar scandal through Drax International local representative Delish Nguwaya.

In the wake of the scandal, now commonly referred to as Draxgate, seven senior officials at national drug supplier, NatPharm, were fired.

The ongoing costly restructuring initiative, which is meant to “achieve greater efficiency as envisaged in the National Health Strategy”, has so far seen 27 directors and deputy directors placed on indefinite paid leave, as Chiwenga reshuffles the scandal-ridden portfolio. Most of the staffers put on paid leave served during Moyo’s tenure.

A recent Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) dossier seen by this newspaper, reveals that during the course of the restructuring exercise, Health Deputy minister John Mangwiro potentially violated public procurement procedures by directing the NatPharm acting general manager and the adjudicating committee to award an undeserving entity Young Health Care a US$6 million contract to procure Covid-19 consumables.

Members of the adjudicating team that arbitrated in favour of Young Health Care comprise of the newly elevated staff. The contract, through which the country could have been prejudiced US$2 million, has since been re-tendered.

In an interview with this newspaper, Mangwiro denied any wrongdoing and advised the Zimbabwe Independent to get answers from Zacc.

He said: “Handiti Zacc ndiyo irikutitonga? Handina kana chandinombotaura neveZacc ivava. Ngavarambe vachikupayi news muchinzwa kuti ndakaita seyi.” (Is it not Zacc which is judging us? Zacc must continue giving you news so that you know what I’m supposed to have done in this matter).

The ongoing reorganisation exercise and the US$6 million controversial contract awarded to Young Health Care reportedly at the behest of Mangwiro has cast light on the pillaging of Covid-19 funds by top government officials and the apparent raging battle pitting Mnangagwa and Chiwenga for control of the levers of state power.

The investigation reveals that shortly before Chiwenga assumed the reins at the influential portfolio, Mangwiro, through the Health Services Board (HSB) rolled out far reaching changes which saw 27 directors and deputies, among other personnel sent on indefinite paid leave. Mangwiro is Chiwenga’s personal doctor.

Subsequently, new personnel were elevated to act in the positions of those sent on paid leave. The paid leave, according to documents seen by the Independent is indefinite.

Staffers on paid leave include director and deputy director laboratory services, director and deputy director pharmacy services, director procurement and procurement officer, director finance and administration services, deputy director administration and logistics and chief scientist Microbiology Laboratory. The human resources director, deputy human resources director, chief engineer and Hospital management services directors are also on paid leave.

Operations directors and procurement officers at the country’s Central hospitals were also sent on paid leave when the indefinite restructuring process commenced.

A salary schedule within the ministry seen by this newspaper shows that the monthly net salary of a medical director currently stands at ZW$25 000 while that of a non-medical director varies between ZW$16 000 and ZW$18 000. Both receive a weekly 40 litres fuel allocation.

Monthly salaries for a medical deputy director ranges between ZW$12 000 and ZW$13 000 while a non-medical deputy director earns ZW$7 000.Both medical and non-medical deputy directors receive 20 litres of fuel every week.

“Please be advised that the Ministry of Health and Child Care is undertaking a restructuring exercise aimed at refocussing its operations in order to achieve greater efficiency as envisaged in the National Health Strategy. Your function has been identified as one that needs realignment,” a letter to one of the affected directors sent on paid leave seen by this newspaper reads.

“This letter serves to inform you that effective July 10, you are hereby put on indefinite leave to facilitate the restructuring exercise. You will not be required to report for duty unless called back to office.”

The letter, undersigned by HSB executive chairman Paulinas Sikosana was dated July 10. Staffers assigned to assume the positions of the 27 directors and deputy directors among other public health workers sent on paid leave in an acting capacity have since been accommodated at a three-star hotel (name supplied) in the capital since July.

A suite at the luxurious hotel costs US$200 per night or the equivalent using the official weekly auction exchange rate. Staffers are staying at the hotel on full board, meaning that government is footing the cost of their meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).

A source close to the extensive restructuring exercise told the Independent that government’s bill at the hotel, where the fresh personnel roped in by Mangwiro to preside over influential positions within the ministry has since shot to ZW$5 million, with the amount set to balloon as they continue to lodge there.

The source said: “When Moyo was fired, Mangwiro immediately instituted a restructuring exercise which resulted in 27 directors and their deputies ordered to go on paid leave. In their place, staffers were appointed to take their positions in an acting capacity. Those on paid leave have been receiving their full salaries, the US$75 Covid allowance awarded to civil servants and fuel allocations, among other benefits. Similarly, the staffers in an acting capacity have been staying at a hotel in the city on full board while they now enjoy improved salaries and benefits in line with their new appointments.”

Health and Child Care secretary Jasper Chimedza told the Independent to get comprehensive answers on the nature of the restructuring exercise from the ministry’s public relations manager Donald Mujiri.

In an interview, Mujiri committed to respond to questions posed by this newspaper after consultation with Chiwenga, who is overseeing the far-reaching restructuring exercise. However, at the time of going to print, he had not responded.

Among the questions posed, the Independent sought to understand the cost of the restructuring exercise, the duration of the restructuring exercise, the number of staffers sent on paid leave and the quantum of the bill picked by government at the hotel.

HSB communications manager Tryfine Dzukutu requested for questions in writing but did not respond.

Sources told this newspaper in separate briefings that the restructuring process, apart from draining limited resources from the fiscus, could trigger a fresh headache for government as it potentially violated labour laws by placing individuals on paid leave indefinitely.

In the case of the affected, as documents seen by the Independent indicate, staffers sent on paid leave have not been accused of any wrong doing.

A source within the Health ministry said Attorney-General Prince Machaya advised that the manner in which the restructuring process was being handled, particularly relating to indefinitely keeping staffers on paid leave, presented grave legal ramifications, if the matter spilled into court.

“The Attorney-General clearly warned that keeping workers on paid leave indefinitely was both costly to government and could backfire if the matter went to court,” a source close to the restructuring exercise said.

In 2019, Chiwenga arbitrarily fired nurses and doctors at public health institutions who had downed tools in protest over poor remuneration.

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