VICE-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga has agreed to reinstate dozens of ministry directors he unilaterally fired two months ago, making a dramatic U-turn after mounting pressure and the threat of a costly lawsuit, it has emerged.
Chiwenga, who flew to China for medical attention last week despite having, ironically, earlier banned such trips, sent 27 ministry directors on forced leave in October claiming to be undertaking a systemic restructuring exercise.
The exercise became the subject of intense controversy, after it emerged the government was forking out millions of dollars since their suspension in July to simultaneously remunerate both the suspended and acting officials.
The restructuring exercise climaxed when the directors were sent on forced leave to pave way for investigations into the abuse of funds when former Health minister Obadiah Moyo was still at the helm.
Moyo is standing trial on allegations of awarding a company called Drax International a US$60 million tender for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the fight against Covid-19.
At the same time, seven senior officials at the national drug supplier Natpharm were fired.
Health Services Board (HSB) communications manager Tryfine Dzukutu confirmed that some of the directors were already back at work, saying two of them were reinstated last week.
But sources close to the restructuring exercise, which is ostensibly being rolled out to “achieve greater efficiency as envisaged in the National Health Strategy” told the Zimbabwe Independent that the number of recalled staffers was high, as fears of attracting legal action mount. A source in the Ministry of Health and Child Care said the manner in which the restructuring exercise was being done, in particular putting staffers on indefinite paid leave, presented grave legal ramifications, if they are challenged in the courts. The source revealed that the exercise was also gobbling substantial amounts of money.
In the correspondence undersigned by HSB chairperson Paulinas Sikhosana, seen by this newspaper, dated July 10 advising the workers to go on indefinite paid leave, the institution did not give any specific charges or reasons for the move.
In written responses to questions sent by the Independent, Dzukutu said: “The recalled members are two deputy directors recalled from indefinite leave namely (a pharmacy and lab scientist) to facilitate service delivery within the ministry. These two members were recalled on December 2, 2020 in their existing capacities.”
However, Dzukutu could not explain the nature of advice HSB had received from the Attorney General nor the reasons why the officials had been placed on indefinite leave saying it was an “in-house and confidential issue.”
She said the restructuring was merely meant to improve efficiency.
A “new ministry structure”, Dzukutu said, was one of the intended objectives of the ongoing restructuring exercise.
“The new approved ministry structure has not been implemented as yet, so their (reinstated staffers) positions will only be determined after its implementation,” she said.
As reported by this newspaper in October, the staffers sent on paid leave include director and deputy director laboratory services, director and deputy director pharmacy services, director procurement 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 were also placed on paid leave.
Operations directors and procurement officers at the country’s central hospitals were also sent on paid leave. In the aftermath of sending the top officials on indefinite leave, the ministry, which is mired in a web of scandals relating to the management of Covid-19 funds, subsequently elevated new staffers to assume those positions in an acting capacity, but enjoying improved perks.
Though investigations by the Independent showed that the restructuring exercise was bleeding the fiscus millions of dollars as the government paid double salaries to the workers placed on indefinite leave and those elevated to act in their position, Dzukutu said the process had transformed the ministry into a transparent structure. A salary schedule within the ministry seen by this newspaper in October showed that the monthly net salary of a medical director stood at ZW$25 000 (US305) while that of a non-medical director varied between ZW$16 000 (US$195) and ZW$18 000 (US$220).They both receive a weekly 40 litres fuel allocation and the US$75 Covid monthly allowance. She said:
“The objectives of the restructuring exercise that were achieved by sending some members on indefinite leave include, to structure the ministry into an efficient, transparent, effective and tightly integrated health agency of the Republic of Zimbabwe; (and) to configure the ministry into a nationally integrated health agency that is disciplined, efficient, transparent and effective.”
Though sources told this newspaper this week that some of the workers who had been on indefinite leave had since been retired, Dzukutu said “for cadres earmarked for early retirement, the process has not been finalised.”
Health and Child Care public relations manager Donald Mujiri did not respond to questions on the cost of the restructuring exercise and the specific reasons why the workers sent on indefinite leave in July were recalled to work this month.