Senator Karanja warns against sacking 500 health workers on contract

Nakuru Senator Tabitha Karanja when Cabinet Secretary National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung'u appeared before the committee on April 5, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Nakuru County Government's decision to terminate contracts for over 500 health workers has put Governor Susan Kihika's policy on recruitment of staff, on the radar.

Senator Tabitha Karanja Keroche has warned of a major health crisis following the move to send home over 500 contracted health workers.

Ms Karanja urged the county executive to instead absorb the workers permanently and warned of possible loss of lives and pain among hundreds of patients.

This came as the affected workers held a go-slow at Nakuru County Referral and Teaching Hospital to protest what they termed unfair dismissal. Last week, the county terminated services of 538 technical staff following expiry of their contract on June 30.

The move sparked hue and cry, with Governor Kihika being challenged to keep her campaign promise of employing the workers permanently when she took office.

The senator expressed her dismay that qualified health workers who had served the county passionately during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic had been kicked out.

"The team of healthcare personnel is not only diligent and passionate about their work but also experienced, thanks to the county government, which spent its resources on their capacity building, specialised training and mentorship," she said.

To avoid the expertise from going down the drain, Karanja proposed that competent and top-performing health workers be absorbed on a permanent and pensionable basis.

She said they should not be subjected to further interviews and recruitment processes while contracts of other experienced healthcare workers are extended for another term. "If no urgent intervention is made to prevent the health crisis, I fear pain, panic, torture and possible loss of lives are likely to visit upon our people," she warned.

In a statement, the senator said all healthcare workers should be employed through the County Public Service Board to avert corruption, sexual exploitation and malpractice.

In the purge, Nakuru County Referral and teaching hospital has lost 249 staff while 150 workers from Naivasha sub-county have been affected.

In the termination letters dated June 21, and signed by different hospital superintendents, the affected workers were advised to re-apply for the jobs when they were re-advertised by the Public Service Board.

In a letter by the Chief Officer for Medical Services, Dr John Murima said the county would declare the positions vacant and advertise them through the PSB in coming days, with calls on affected staff to re-apply.

"The purpose of this letter is to notify you that the engagement of all hospital technical staff contracts engaged on a short-term basis will end on the 30th of June," reads the letter by Murima.

During inauguration last year, Kihika gave an undertaking that the workers, including clinical officers, nurses and occupational therapists, would be employed on permanent and pensionable terms.

The county executive is yet to issue an official statement about the decision to end the contracts, but the letter seen by The Standard shows the contract ends today, June 30th.

An official at the County Public Service Board, privy to details of contracted employees' saga, said they were trying to streamline recruitment of workers.

"There was a problem with the recruitment of contracted employees in the previous regime, and we are trying to fix using the law as per the framework for short-term employment in public service," said the official who did not want to be named.

However, members of civil society have faulted the board for allegedly abdicating its responsibilities by allowing politicians to decide on who would be hired. Friends of Devolution, Nakuru County chairman Ben Macharia said MCAs were forwarding names to the board.

"We have seen in a WhatsApp group for MCAs, a senior county official asking ward representatives to forward names to sub-county directors for consideration. This is against the law. The board should take seriously its responsibilities as the county recruitment agency," Macharia said.

A screenshot of the conversation between the MCAs, and the county officials showed that each ward representative was supposed to forward the names of three people. The Standard could not independently confirm whether the screenshot was genuine or not.

Nakuru County Assembly Majority Leader Stanley Karanja said MCAs were involved only in identifying whether those recruited were from their wards.

[Additional reporting by Steve Mkawale]

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