Psmas decay: Chiwenga summoned
PARLIAMENT has summoned Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga to give a ministerial statement on the chaos at Premier Service Medical Aid Society (Psmas), as well as inform the nation why the public health system is crumbling given that major hospitals are operating without critical life-saving equipment.
Chiwenga doubles as Health and Child Care minister. The matter was first raised on Wednesday by Bulawayo South MP Jane Nicola Watson who was supported by independent Norton legislator Temba Mliswa and Nkayi South legislator Stars Mathe.
Earlier, Muchineripi Chinyangana, the MP for Kadoma Central, had decried lack of government’s commitment to providing cancer-treatment machines in major hospitals despite a public outcry over the years. In raising the call for Chiwenga to be summoned to appear in Parliament with a ministerial statement, Watson said the move was long overdue given that the health system was in dire straits.
“It has been requested that the minister of Health comes with a comprehensive statement on the state of the health delivery service in the public sector and I think it is long overdue. These questions should be answered because I do not think it only applies to cancer machines but I think the public health service delivery is collapsing,” she said.
Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda at that stage asked Chiwenga’s deputy, John Mangwiro, to comment. “Honourable minister, are you acquiescing to the request?” Mudenda asked, upon which Mangwiro responded: “Yes honourable Speaker, we agree to the request but with your permission, I do not endorse the statement that the health system is collapsing. We have as we speak the lowest number of Covid-19 deaths and lowest figure of cholera deaths. That statement cannot be sustained by facts.”
Mliswa rose on a point of order and called for Chiwenga to include explanations on the dire situation at Psmas in his ministerial statement to be presented to the National Assembly.
Said the Norton MP: “With all due respect, I think the issues of health are very sensitive. We are paying Psmas as we speak but we cannot be treated. I think with, due respect, the health delivery system is not performing well. We are all paying Psmas and money is being deducted throughout the civil service but there is nowhere to go. All the Psmas hospitals are closed,” Mliswa said.
“I think I should add to what should be addressed in the ministerial statement. Can the minister also talk about why the Psmas hospitals are closed yet people are paying Psmas every month?
“What has government done to ensure that all of us who are sick can go to another hospital where we can be looked after because people are not getting the needed attention and they are dying? “If he can include that, especially the Psmas issue which we are all beneficiaries of. I do not know why members of Parliament were clapping yet you know that when we are sick we cannot fly but he is a minister and he can fly out.
“We have to deal with hospitals here. So, I am actually ashamed that you [fellow MPs] are actually busy clapping when you know that you can die here without receiving treatment. The ministers will be flown outside.” Mathe agreed that in his ministerial statement Chiwenga should include the aspect raised by Mliswa.
“Thank you, honourable Speaker. We will do that [bringing of Chiwenga ministerial statement],” promised Chiwenga’s deputy, Mangwiro.
Psmas medical aid holders have been failing to get healthcare services, with the company hitting hard times amid allegations by union leaders that senior government officials want to sink the medical services provider, so that it can be acquired cheaply by politically connected persons.
The entity runs a chain of hospitals, clinics and laboratories with 126 service centres across the country but its service delivery plunged to record low levels since mid-last year and the company has since closed some of its outlets.
The problems of cash crunch at the entity started when top officials looted its public funds. Psmas has over the years been looted by politically connected persons, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba.
In 2015, it emerged that Charamba, a former Psmas board member, received US$228 278 between 2009 and 2013 in board fees and allowances, which was extraordinarily exorbitant. According to an Ernst and Young forensic investigation on the use of Psmas funds draft report of 2015 addressed to Psmas interim manager Gibson Mhlanga at that time, a total of US$2 438 000 was spent on board directors’ remuneration.
In another scandal that also drained the entity, former chief executive officer Curthbert Dube pocketed a staggering US$460 000 monthly as a basic salary, among other unbelievable perks.
In September last year, five Psmas executives were arrested by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) anti-corruption unit on various allegations that include theft, fraud and forgery involving millions of dollars.
The officials are medical services chief executive officer Farai Muchena, managing director Tafadzwa Gutu, Victor Chaipa, Cosmas Mukwesha and Shingai Mabuto. They appeared before regional magistrate Taurai Manuwere.
The financial constraints at the entity have now affected the welfare and working conditions of employees. The Premier Service Medical Investments (PSMI) employees last month resorted to holding prayer vigils at PSMI’s Parkview Hospital in Harare, demanding their outstanding salaries and pleaded with President Emmerson Mnangagwa to intervene to resolve the impasse with their employer.
PSMI national workers’ council committee chairperson Munyaradzi Nharaunda told the media at that time that they had exhausted other channels of communication with the authorities, including writing to Psmas director Nixjoen Mapesa.
Last week a video went viral showing Psmas workers breaking into tears after being retrenched without receiving exit packages or outstanding salaries.
“We have been silent for a long time. Most of the time we could go to Christmas without salaries but we were quiet hoping our company would grow. Now they are neglecting us. They did not tell us when they will cover our salaries,” a lady’s voice is heard in the video.