Govt fails to pay former Tšepong nurses

 MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The government has failed to pay September salaries to over 200 nurses previously employed by the Tšepong Consortium that managed the Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH).

The affected nurses signed new contracts on August 31 after government severed ties with the Tšepong consortium and took over management of the hospital.

Relations between Tšepong and the government had already soured when the consortium’s decision to fire the nurses brought matters to a head. The hospital accused the nurses of participating in an illegal strike which started on February 1, 2021.

QMMH is the country’s main referral healthcare facility. The 425-bed hospital, and a network of refurbished filter clinics, were built through a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative, with the Tšepong consortium as the principal contractor of the agreement.

QMMH and four of its primary care clinics opened doors to patients in 2011 to replace the run-down century-old Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.

QMMH features eight operating rooms, a maternity wing, a 40-bed nursery, a 10-bed adult Intensive Care Unit, and an ophthalmology unit.

South African Netcare Hospital Group was sub-contracted to manage QMMH, providing all clinical services required to operate the hospital and the primary care clinics on behalf of the consortium.

The 18-year contract was terminated by government this year accusing the Tšepong Consortium of breaching its contractual obligations in terms of the PPP agreement.

Netcare handed over operations at QMMH and its four primary care clinics in Maseru to the government, and in a July 14 statement indicated that this followed the premature termination of the PPP agreement – effective from August 31.

The hospital was then handed over to the government. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the affected nurses revealed that the last payment she received was for the month of August from Tšepong and no explanation has been given to them since then.

She said not getting her September salary has forced her into a struggle to make end meets, with her bills unpaid to date. “I have not even paid rent; I have no transport, no food and all my bills are outstanding,” she said.

The confirmation letter she received from the Ministry of Health following government’s takeover of the QMMH stipulates that she will continue to get her monthly salary effective August 1, as well as all allowances where applicable.

Dated August 25th, 2021, the letter reads in part: “This letter seeks to confirm that in the job offer to be issued by QMMH, your monthly basic salary will continue to be paid effective from 1st August, 2021.

“Please note further that housing, night shift duty, special unit, shift leading, HOD management and call allowances will continue to be paid where applicable.”

But speaking to this publication the Minister of Ministry of Health, Semano Sekatle refuted the allegations that the nurses have not been paid.

Sekatle claimed that the nurses have been paid two months’ salaries (August and September) and are, therefore, not owed any outstanding earnings.

Upon collapse of the working relationship between Tšepong and the government of Lesotho, the nurses were asked to continue working while the health ministry worked on modalities surrounding their welfare, salaries and allowances during the transition process.

Principal Secretary in the ministry, Khothatso Tšooana, assured the staff that government will do the right thing but needed a little time to wrap up the transition process with Tšepong.

Tšooana encouraged them to continue with their duties while his ministry resolved the issue concerning their employment.

“We are working on issues concerning your jobs. We will update you as soon as the job has been completed. However, in the meantime, continue with your respective tasks and rest assured that we will do what is right by you,” he said.

In a recent interview with this paper, Sekatle said that government was considering the hospital’s future and will make an announcement as soon as a decision has been made. “We will make an announcement,” Sekatle said.

On August 4 this year, Netcare warned that the Lesotho government was ignoring crucial transitionary arrangements and agreements that it said were essential for a seamless handover to secure the safe continuation of healthcare services to the Basotho citizens.

It said this included clarity on the transfer of more than 800 Tšepong employees comprising clinicians, nurses, other staff and sub-contractor employees who are expecting formal offer letters of employment from the government, as contemplated in the PPP agreement.

“This improper handover further ignores the basic employment rights of Tšepong workers, who have loyally provided care for the past 11 years,” it said.

QMMH public relations officer, Thakane Mapeshoane-Sepipi, around the same time confirmed that the workers have been employed by the government for a year.

“That is just for transitional purposes,” Mapeshoane-Sepipi said. “Workers will have permanent employment when government has made a decision on whether it gets another contractor to manage the hospital, turns it into a parastatal or keeps it as a government-run hospital.”

An independent study conducted by Boston University found that QMMH delivered significantly more services and services of higher quality in 2012 than at baseline comparison of Queen Elizabeth II hospital it replaced.

The number of admissions, according to the study, increased by 51 percent, while outpatient visits more than doubled, and the hospital and filter clinics assisted 45 percent more deliveries compared to baseline.

But in 2014, Oxfam published a report showing how the PPP was draining the budget of the Ministry of Health and diverting scarce resources away from primary healthcare services in rural areas, where death rates are rising and where three-quarters of the population lives.

In 2013/14, the Oxfam study found, the PPP cost the government US$67 million (or about M1 billion) – consuming 51 percent of the total government health budget. This was up from 41 percent the year before. “The hospital is being run at nearly two and a half times the amount that was agreed as affordable between the Government of Lesotho and the IFC before the contract was awarded,” read the report.

Tšepong’s shareholders comprised: Netcare, which held a 40 percent stake, while the remaining 60 percent shareholding was held as follows; 20 percent by South Africa-based Health (Pty) Ltd (Afrinnai), 20 percent by Lesotho-based Excel Health Services (Pty); while Lesotho-based D10 Investments (Pty) Ltd (D10) and Women Investment Company (Pty) Ltd (WIC) each held 10 percent.

 

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