Kenya should stop corruption and invest in healthcare

Health CS Cleopa Mailu (left) flanked by PS Nicholas Muraguri before Parliamentary Labour and Social Welfare Committee in Nairobi, to negotiate a possible end to the doctors' strike, in this photo taken on February 22, 2017. Lawmakers challenged the Government to proactively deal with the medics’ strike. PHOTO DAVID NJAAGA/STANDARD

The doctor’s strike that has entered its third month brings to mind the mythical story of the Kusadikika Kingdom; defined by excessive greed, lust and abuse of power.

The subjects of Kusadikika were not expected to question their rulers. Everything belonged to the king- Rivers, stones, lands, fish, animals – yet every second he cried, “Thirst, hunger, thirst, hunger”. Despite this, the citizens of Kusadikika were expected to believe what their rulers said.

Recently, the leaders of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) were sent to jail by Judge Hellen Wasilwa of the Employment and Labour Relations Court for contempt of court.

While the Judge was quick to send doctors union leaders who rejected the court orders to call off the strike, Interior Principal Secretary, Karanja Kibicho, who was sentenced to three months in jail for the same offence is carrying out his duties on Harambee Avenue like nothing happened. The genesis of the present impasse is the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the doctors union and the national government signed in June 2013.

Under the 2010 Constitution, a significant portion of health was devolved to the county governments. However, the county governments were not a signatory to the CBA. Further, the Ministry of Health did not register the CBA as required by the Labour Relations Act.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the doctors union went to court to seek direction in implementation of the CBA. The court ruled that the Government, after consultation with all the parties to the suit, submit to court a CBA for registration as required by law within 90 days.

Attempts by the union to reach out to the parties to start the negotiations collapsed forcing the union to issue a 21 day strike notice after waiting for 45 days. Two days after the strike began on December 4, the Government went to court to have the strike declared illegal and therefore unprotected. Just before the doctor’s went on strike, Sh5 billion was reported lost from the ministry through fraudulently inflated tenders.

Some of the people allegedly involved in the scandal were the president’s close relatives. However, government officials have gone the extra mile to deny this.

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), one of Jubilee administration’s flagship project, has been riddled with corruption claims; the Government has yet to fully explain why the project costs Sh600 billion when similar or better SGR projects in neighbouring countries costs much less.

The county governments have equally been riddled with corruption. The Governors’ appetite for public money is simply unquenchable as evidenced by the Auditor General’s reports.

With all the waste around, how can the Government complain there is no money to fully implement the financial aspect of the doctors’ CBA? Despite overwhelming evidence of corruption and incompetence, the President has not relieved the Cabinet Secretary for Health and his Principal Secretary of their duties.

The doctor’s union leadership has demonstrated leadership by staying the cause, even at the expense of spending nights in jail. Their resolve has brought a spotlight to the problems of public health in Kenya. Some have portrayed the doctors as greedy for demanding fair pay as agreed upon in the CBA.

However, the CBA is more than pay. The CBA is about all weary Kenyans who have been forced to fundraise to travel to India for medical care because they simply can’t obtain it locally at reasonable cost in the public health facilities.

If the Government can tame the runaway corruption, and that money is instead invested in the public health, the Government will fulfil the CBA, and doctors will not have to go on strike.