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Ombudsman faults Blantyre Council over coronavirus allowances

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Martha Chizuma

The Office of the Ombudsman has faulted the Blantyre District Council over the way it handled the issue of allowances related to Covid-19 which led to a strike by frontline workers and eventual closure of Kameza Isolation Centre.

The Ombudsman has also raised eyebrows on why the council paid allowances to frontline health workers from January to March when they only started working at the institution in March.

In her determination, the Ombudsman, Martha Chizuma, has also faulted the Council for paying allowances to officers not involved frontline activities of fighting Covid-19.

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“The allowances that Blantyre District Council paid out for alleged Covid-19 related work between December 2019 and March 2020 and also the issue of non-deserving officers being listed for payment of allowances for Covid-19 related work will be subjected to much broader inquiry being carried out by the Office of the Ombudsman on the transparency and accountability of Covid-19 Funds,” reads the determination made on August 27.

According to a public inquiry by the Ombudsman which took place on July 21, the Blantyre District Council received a first chunk of money from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) amounting to K45 million which they used 48 percent of it to pay the allowances from December 2019 up to March 2020 while the remaining 52 percent was used to buy personal protective equipment and other things.

However, the frontline health workers mentioned that they started working at the Kameza Isolation Centre in March 2020.

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According to the inquiry, from April to May 2020 the frontline health workers did not receive any allowances and they wrote a letter to their in-charges informing them that they would go on a sit in if no allowance was paid.

It was reported that on June 16, 2020 Dr Andrew Likaka from the Ministry of Health visited the workers and assured them that they would get their subsistence allowances and not just a meal allowance as their superiors had indicated.

About 90 health workers complained to the Ombudsman about the position by the DC claiming that it is unfair as their colleagues across the country doing similar work are getting subsistence allowance and not meal allowance.

They further allege that the delay in payment of their allowances was worsened by some people being listed along with the health workers as deserving of receiving the allowance when they did not do any Covid-19 related work.

“Good leadership on this issue seems to have worked in the other councils. It therefore is my finding that lack of good leadership and transparency exhibited by poor or no prior communication on how the allowances issues will be handled and the apparent inclusion of people who had not provided any service as port of Covid-19 fight on the list of those to receive allowances created the misunderstanding and mistrust between the parties and thus resulted in the closure of the facility,” Chizuma says.

She has also faulted the Blantyre District Council for allowing health workers go back to their homes and communities and continue working at their respective health centres during the period of their 21 day cycle at the isolation and treatment centre, saying it increases the community transmission of the virus.

During the inquiry, the complainants were represented by Mike Gwazanga and Kennedy Luwo. The respondents were represented by Director of Health and Social Services for Blantyre, Dr Gift Kawalazira and District Commissioner for Blantyre, Bennett Nkasala.

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