The leadership of more than 8,000 health workers around the country has demanded that Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. (MD) Walter T. Gwenigale and two of his principal deputies “must resign” and leave the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
They also emphatically stated that before Dr. Gwenigale and the duo leave, a forensic audit should be conducted so that the trio can “make all necessary clarifications, should there be any arising from the audit report.”
The National Health Workers Association of Liberia’s (NHWAL) leadership said their demand for the resignation of the Health Minister and his two deputies, Dr. Bernice T. Dahn, Chief Medical Officer of the Republic of Liberia and Cllr. Vivian Cherue, Dep. Min. for Social Welfare, must be met before they can enter into any negotiations with anyone.
“For too long the health workers of this country have been taken for a ride by these people. We have waited patiently and it seems Dr. Gwenigale and his deputies have no intention of seeking the welfare of those who deliver pregnant women by candle light with their bare hands, and those who trek muddy roads be it rain or shine, day or night for the cause of saving lives,” the NHWAL leadership said when they addressed the media on Wednesday, February 5.
This strike action is about to create a “snowball effect” (a situation where problems accumulate and become larger) on the health sector again. Last year when these workers went on strike, the whole nation’s health sector was near the brink of collapse. The Health Ministry and other institutions reported cases of death and patients being forced to abandon public health facilities for home or headed to private health facilities. At some public health facilities, only the Ministry of Health’s assigned medical doctors were there to cater for patients.
Medical professionals are threatening to begin their strike on February 17, if nothing tangible is done to address the concerns they put forward sometime early last year. February 19, 2014 marks exactly one year since NHWAL began engaging the government. It seems from the NHWAL’s side that nothing concrete is being done to address their concerns.
In an eight-count resolution, they said a lump sum payment of the US$55 that was deducted from some health and social welfare workers’ “meager incentives” must be deposited into the accounts of the affected employees before midday Feb. 14.
Mr. George Poe William, NHWAL’s Secretary General, further stated that the US$100 salary increment for all health and social welfare workers takes effect as of fiscal year 2013/14 and a lump sum payment from July 2013 to February 2014 should be deposited in all concerned accounts before midday Feb. 14.
Williams also called for the immediate employment of over 4,000 health and social welfare workers, who they claimed are serving the nation without salaries.
Dr. Walter Gwenigale
Efforts by the Daily Observer to contact Dr. Gwenigale were unsuccessful. On Monday, February 3rd, however, two days before the NHWAL called for his resignation, Dr. Gwenigale addressed the press. He disclosed that he had heard rumors that the health workers were planning to strike again.
He said upon hearing that, he phoned Senator Armah Z. Jallah, who was one of those working on the report being crafted after they (Senators, Health Ministry officials and health workers) had met to resolve the impasse that had shut down the whole health sector not long ago.
He said he also called the NHWAL leadership, including its president Joseph Tamba and spokesperson George Poe Williams. He asked them about the rumors, and they confirmed that they were planning a strike action because their concerns were not being addressed.
At the Monday, February 3, press conference, Dr. Gwenigale stated: “We have unfinished business disrupting the health care delivery system of our people. It is showing up again and I thought we should be pro-active to address it.”
The Health and Social Welfare Minister said the US$55 deducted from health workers’ salaries had been replaced with a higher amount in Liberian dollars.
“Since they are saying that we should put the US55$ back, should we take back the Liberian dollar amount which is even more than the US dollar quantity they are complaining about?” he asked rhetorically.
Health Minister Gwenigale also displayed a document he said contained a list of at least 500 names of some of the health workers, whose names had been forwarded to the Civil Servant Agency (CSA) for placement on the Government of Liberia’s payroll.
The Minister also disclosed that the Ministry was further processing at least 1,600 others for onward transmission to the CSA.
Dr. Bernice Dahn
Dr. Dahn, one of the main persons at the center of the fracas, told the Observer that she would not bother herself with the health workers’ demands.
“They are not the ones who employed me; it is the President, so why should I bother myself?” she asked. She also said that evidence of what she had done towards the increment of health workers’ salaries was on record.
Cllr. Vivian Cherue could not be reached for comments as her mobile phone was switched off.
Civil Servant Agency
Mr. George K. Warner, Director of the Civil Servant Agency (CSA) said the agency had not been informed by the NHWAL of their latest plan of action. He said, however, that it was saddening that the leadership of NHWAL has planned another strike action, given that a CSA team has been working with authorities of the Health Ministry in order to “rationalize” their payroll.