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Donors stop health sector allowances

Ministry of Health is under pressure to stop paying some allowances to its staff as one of the conditions from the donors to resume aid to the health sector.

Donors stopped funding District Health Offices (DHOs) in April this year because of abuse of financial resources and asked the Ministry of Health to curb the malpractice in order to win donor support again.

The donors’ pressure forced Principal Secretary for Health, MacPhail Magwira, to issue a memo on August 10, 2015 stopping several allowances and dubious procurement processes, a development which has displeased many workers in the health sector.

They argued that such measures should also apply to all government ministries and departments.

Magwira confirmed the donor pressure and his subsequent memo in an interview.

He warned that disciplinary action would be taken against the DHOs who defy the order in accordance with the Public Financial Management Act.

Magwira said: “The donors demanded that I adopt strong measures to stop the malpractice before resuming funding to the DHOs.”

He accused the DHOs of wrongly prioritising funding by sharing allowances instead of taking care of the welfare of patients and utility bills.

Magwira said, as a controlling officer, he is mandated by Section 87 of the Public Financial Management Act to ensure that funds allocated to his ministry are used for the intended purpose.

In his August 10, 2015 memo addressed to health authorities titled: “Strict Adherence to Public Financial and Procurement Regulations and All Other Circulars on Expenditure Control Measures” Magwira has stopped paying allowances to any officer working within the duty station be it normal or on special assignment.

The measures are also in line with the recommendations from the meeting former Minister of Health, Jean Kalilani, held with directors of central hospitals and district health officers on August 4 and 5, 2015 in Lilongwe.

“No allowances should be given to any officer working within the duty station regardless whether it’s normal duties or special assignments or activities. In the same vein, no allowances should be paid to officers attending fully funded Development Partner Activities,” reads part of the Memo.

“Where night allowances are given they should only be provided in circumstances where an officer is spending a night out of duty station and the number of nights should only be for those nights spent outside the duty station,” adds the Memo, addressed to directors at the Ministry’s headquarters, central hospitals, zonal supervisors and District Health Officers.

Further Magwira warns: “Where an officer spends full day outside duty station, they should be given lunch allowances only.

However, Magwira has restricted the movement of staff from duty stations.

“Authorisation to leave duty station must be given by Head of Institutions only or his/her delegated officer in times when the Head of Institution is away from duty station. In all cases when such authorisation is given, the number of night allowances given should be limited to the minimum possible,” reads the memo.

He also mandated heads of institutions or their delegated officers to ensure that all vehicles and ambulances have properly maintained log books and that on monthly basis, reconciliation for the amount of fuel used and distances covered is done and that any discrepancies should be investigated and appropriately dealt with.

On procurement, Magwira said practices of collusion and awarding of contracts to relations and networks should be checked at all times.

Magwira’s strict measures have not gone down well with many health workers who argued that the measures were meant to frustrate the already frustrated health workers who are faced with lack of resources in health facilities.

“Where is the logic stopping some of those allowances when our friends from other government departments continue receiving them? If it is a cost cutting measure on the part of government, I do not see the saving when all other departments keep on receiving the allowances,” said one hospital administrator.

Another hospital administrator said if government wants to save from allowances, Secretary for Human Resource Development should issue a circular stopping such allowances in all government departments.

One nurse said the measures would frustrate them because working in health sector should not be compared to other jobs.

Health rights activist and executive director of Health and Rights Education Programme, Maziko Matemba, urged the Ministry of Health leaders to engage one another on some special areas that would need payment of allowances for the sake of progress.

Matemba also asked the Treasury to apply the measures to all government departments.

Recently, Magwira also issued a memo stopping all directors, supervisors and DHOs from speaking to the media.

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