Inclusive Government "Steals" Donor Funds
This dying woman at Parirenyatwa hospital earlier this month had to lie out in the sun because doctors were on strike. It now emerges that the doctors' salaries had been topped up by donors but the extra money topped up did not appear in their accounts - it vanished into thin air, apparently misused by the Inclusive Government
Harare, Zimbabwe 31 August 2009
It is emerging now that the strike by doctors this month was brought about because the Inclusive government of Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe misappropriated funds meant to pay these health workers.
It is reliably understood that donors paid money to top-up doctors' and nurses salaries, and that the donors, who are understood to be British, had based their payments on doctors getting a minimum of US$400 each on top of the US$100 "allowance" that was being paid by the broke and moribund Inclusive Government.
The leadership of health workers, who preferred to remain anonymous, revealed that, instead of getting their US$500 each, the highest paid doctor this last month got US$200.
The Ministry of Health, now run by the MDC-Tsvangirai, failed to explain where the donor money went and this led the doctors to go on strike.
Health workers I spoke to over the weekend and this morning were also insistent that apart from this curious disappearance of money they know to have been given to the government to pay their salaries, they are also unhappy about the conditions under which they work.
One shocking revelation today was that premature babies are dying in incubators which have variously broken down or lack the necessary heating to keep the babies alive.
A doctor who works at one of the major hospitals in Harare told me it is heartbreaking to have to watch people dying, knowing full well that they could easily be saved if he had the proper working equipment.
"Zvinodhina so" - he lamented. The saying means "It pisses me off."
Half the required equipment in the hospitals of Zimbabwe is not working, claimed the doctor. In addition, there is a frightening scarcity of drugs and medicines, even though donors have tried as best they can to supply some drugs.
The doctor tells me that at Parirenyatwa (once the most advanced hospital in Southern Africa, it was a whites-only hospital under colonial rule) and Harare Hospital (which catered for blacks under colonialism), theft of drugs by hospital staff, even some senior ones, is rife.
The doctor says you can not blame the staff, underpaid as they are. The Ministry knows about these thefts and prefers to turn a blind eye "unless someone gets completely out of hand."
AIDS and HIV patients are particularly hard-hit, especially as it emerges now that the National AIDS Council has been using money collected from taxpayers to fund junkets and luxurious lifestyles while neglecting completely to buy ARVs which AIDS need to alleviate their suffering.
As it turns out, I was also in a meeting with a senior diplomat at a western embassy here in Harare this morning who revealed to me that the donor community knows about the abuse of funds by the Inclusive Government.
He claims the new lot in the government is just as bad as the old one. The difference, he explained to me, is that, with ZANU PF, the approach is "each man for himself and God for us all".
Meaning, of course, that each minister or party functionary in ZANU PF makes his own plans about putting his or her hand in the cookie jar.
"With the new crowd, they sit down as a group to decide what percentage of money donated goes to them. According to seniority, they then allocate each other varying sums of money from the pot."
The diplomat claims the donor community are aware of this, and that they know that 30% of money donated for humanitarian needs is being pocketed by the Inclusive Government. Considering that 70% of the money gets to the intended recipients, the donor community feel that there is nothing else really they can do.
But these revelations show just why the donor community is reluctant to help this moribund Inclusive Government. Their approach at the moment is to do the barest minimum to keep Zimbabweans' bodies and souls together.
What strikes me as cold-hearted, however, is that the Inclusive Government of Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe went ahead and fired the doctors even though they knew that had broken promises and pledges made to these doctors.
Even though they knew they had misused money donated specifically to augment the salaries of the overworked health professionals.
Even though they knew that our health institutions are short missing 60% of the doctors they need to operate properly.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?
And the MDC-T, especially, had the gall to campaign in March last year using the slogan "Change You Can Trust"? This is the change they spoke about? And what exactly are we supposed to trust in all this thievery and heartlessness?