Health secretary grilled over stolen funds

HARARE - Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has suffered serious financial prejudice from theft and fraud by its staffers, resulting in the misappropriation of $68 000 and 18 000 Rand.

Permanent secretary Gerald Gwinje on Friday briefed the portfolio committee on Public Accounts that the ministry has been struggling to recover the money from the employees, with some having fled the country after being reported to the police.

Appearing before the legislative committee chaired by MDC legislator for Highfield West Simon Hove, Gwinje, together with director of finance in the ministry Leonard Mabhadhi, exposed expenditure overruns, fuel usage, and cannibalism of government vehicles by the ministry’s workers.

Gwinje was asked to account for the misappropriated $68 000 and 18 000 Rand and another $72 000 that was not accounted for from money received from Treasury.

“We made reports to the police to help recover the money and in one case someone was arrested and about $3 000 was recovered but the other outstanding money is still to be recovered,” Gwinje said.

“We have now introduced courses of financial management and bookkeeping to our managers so they can know how to handle the cash.”

Gwinje said $72 000 had been used to repair vehicles in the ministry and was paid to several garages in the country.

He also said some of the misappropriation happened before he was appointed permanent secretary in the ministry.

“Some of the things happened before my time and this is why some of the audits were not done, but when I was appointed in April 2009 I have tried to put tight financial systems to control the abuse of funds, and so far it has worked,” said Gwinje.

He said as a measure of controlling the abuse of fuel by senior health managers and medical officers, the ministry had introduced the use of coupons as opposed to vehicles collecting fuel from hospital tanks.

Gwinje also told the committee that he had also stopped some cases of double payment as 45 employees were receiving two salaries, one from government and the other from the Global Fund.

“This was notified during the audit and it was rectified as it was realised that it had happened for a long from 2008 before I become permanent secretary and I had to stop it because regulations do not allow that,” said Gwinje.

Hove advised Gwinje to rein-in his staff and introduce tight financial mechanisms as the public funds were being fleeced.

Gwinje admitted that the abuse was happening at the district hospitals and main referral centres as people are paying cash to hospitals to seek treatment.

The committee also complained about the attitude and arrogance that patients were being subjected to by nurses and doctors as many patients were spending long hours waiting to be treated.

“It now takes eight hours for one to be attended at the major hospitals like Parirenyatwa and Harare Central Hospital and this is the reason why the former minister of Health Herbert Ushewekunzwe once visited them in disguise and beat up nurses and doctors who were neglecting patients,” said Hove.

Gwinje admitted the problem but blamed it on the young and inexperienced staff manning the hospitals.

“We have faced challenges in that we have lost experienced staff and this is why we having these problems, but we are trying to address it by emphasising on the course of medical ethics to our trainee students,” said Gwinje.

He said the health sector was on a recovery path as most of the public hospitals had medicines and equipment that was being donated by foreign partners.

Parliament committees act as watchdogs to various government ministries and have powers to summon Cabinet ministers and senior government officials to appear before to them to answer issues and questions that are in the public interest.

Most of the meetings are open to the public for hearing with some of them being closed sessions.

The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare has suffered a lot of challenges including misappropriation of funds in hospitals.

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