Wednesday 2024-06-19




By Mbongeni Mbingo | 2023-12-03

It is undeniable that the ministry of health is presiding over one of the most critical crises we have seen in a long time. It does not look like they will get on top of it any time soon, too, which is really worrying.

With a new cabinet, and a fresh minister, it can be assumed that government will soon turn the corner and our health institutions will start thriving again and we can get medicines and drugs over the counter with ease.

We have been denied this for such a long time, it is starting to look like the beginning of the collapse of the health sector. Time will tell, however, it is worrying that the health crisis has been a thing in this country for almost three years now, with hospitals running short of drugs in all four regions and the public being turned back more often than not.

In recent months, even The Luke Commission has started to wobble over the weight of supplying an entire country and has been hinting at closure for some time. Were that to happen, then that would be disastrous.

But this health crisis will be the testing of the new minister of health, to answer the question of whether he is the right man for the job, which I am certain we can only answer with time.

This will in the main, also give us a clear indication of the kind of man and politician the health minister is, or if he is simply the man for this job. In other words, the minister for health will be thoroughly examined during his tenure whether he is a good legislator or a good politician.

Either way, he does not have the luxury of time, for with each passing day, people are dying because this country’s once very good health system is on its knees.

The signs, I am afraid, are that we are going around in circles, and we are refusing to tackle the elephant in the room – which is, quite frankly, the ministry of health is wasting money looking for a needle in a haystack.

I have been consistent in saying the current probe that apparently is a forensic audit is not only crippled with too much unnecessary controversy, but it is also quite frankly an exercise in futility and one that is plagued with too much controversy for anything good to come out of it.

It is also, a waste of our money, for we know it was never meant to solve the crisis, but was just to continue to pull wool over our eyes, if not just to settle personal scores. Time will tell whether or not this is true, but I am convinced that there are agendas that are being fought that we are not aware of, that will not, sadly, help this country.

What we want is the availability of drugs and medicines in the hospitals. What the public wants is to be able to visit a hospital and get assistance. What the people are desperate for is that when they are sick, the health institutions are able to provide the services they were set up for – which is cheap, affordable health care that is proficient.

For more than two years, we have been fed stories and excuses about the shortage of drugs supply, and the former minister has said publicly why we ran short of these drugs in our hospitals. She has made it clear that we ran into this crisis because of our financial challenges, particularly failure to pay to procure.

So, in my humble opinion, what we need is to get drugs into the system, and fast. To do anything else is honestly doing the same thing and expecting a different result, which we know what it means. Strangely, Cabinet has once more prioritised an approach that will not get us anywhere. The idea of a task team is nice, it is a feel-good thing.

We want results, and results are based on whether or not there are new ways in which we are going to procure and pay for drugs supply – finish.

This thing of telling us about the historical challenges at the ministry of health that have led to the alleged fraud and corruption are good for bedtime stories. Besides the fact that we are beginning to get concerned with the agendas behind the probe and the continued forensic investigation despite the obvious controversies, means we will not get anything done any time soon.

Yet, the reality is staring at us in the face. Procuring of drugs and medicine was apparently compromised early this year, when employees at the Central Medical Stores were suspended. That meant a new team came in, and have started afresh.

But, what we are not being told is whether or not there has been any attempt to buy any of the medicines that is nowhere in our hospitals.

What we are not being told is what the plan is in the intervening period, to ensure the disruption in the procurement and supply is not impacted. The Central Medical Stores employees were suspended seven months ago.

You would think by now they would have found the mice that are eating the drugs and the cardboards at the same time, but we hear nothing of this, to date. Although we do want to know the full extent of the theft and how big the mice that are found at the CMS, we also think it is reckless to not deal with the actual crisis.

The crisis is located at the ministry of health, I have no doubt about that. Changes have already been made to personnel and yet, we still have the same problems. I have a sense that even the new principal secretary will soon run out of energy, the way things are going, yet we were made to believe he would be the solution.

I have always had a sense that if Cabinet wants to get to the bottom of the health crisis, it is not in pinning an entire mafiosi corruption in a few individuals, just as the previous reports into the health crisis have pointed out.

The notion of dealing with small fish instead of bo-bhabuli is that it flies in the face of fighting corruption, but only papers over the cracks. If Cabinet wants answers in the ministry of health, then it needs to go through the Sikelela Dlamini probe into the health crisis.

The solutions have never been implemented. But, we love our witch-hunts, so, Cabinet must ditch the current process that has been embroiled with so much controversy we have lost all manner of confidence and trust in it, and institute a process that will be transparent, authentic and professional with a above-board institution. But, at the core of the health crisis is setting up a team to preside over the supply chain, including the establishment of a committee to oversee all procurement processes.

Media can’t be dragged back

It goes without saying that the suggestion that the media in this country must be placed under statutory regulation because it had failed to self-regulate is both unfortunate and backward, for not only does it say a lot about our challenges as a media, but it is informing of limitations within which we operate.

That we are not a perfect media is also an undisputed fact, but to suggest that we now need to be controlled by the state only demonstrates a failure to appreciate the role that the media – at its purest – can play.

It fails to also address the actual elephant in the room, which is access to information that would play such a critical role in fighting corruption.

Instead, there is a tendency to always want to curtail the media, particularly the press, which is currently what we are witnessing through the courts. The manner in which the judiciary is handling cases against the media is the biggest scandal this country has seen since Michael Romedibedi’s capture of the judiciary.

But, we shall revisit that conversation soon. What is important is that we cannot afford to think that the media will best serve this country when it is controlled by the state or that the manner in which it functions must be controlled.

The argument over self-regulation only makes sense considering the role of the same state in ensuring that it is put in place.

This is to say, if there is a role the state should ensure is play its oversight of the functioning of the Media Complaints Commission in effect to look after the interests of the public.

It is a different story altogether that we are down this route because the same state is largely at fault for how the MCC was not fully resourced, thereby leaving it to the media to work out a solution.

The notion of curtailing media freedom only serves to enable corruption and malfeasance, and will never be the solution to the media’s own challenges. We need a free media to hold politicians to account, and not to intimidate the media to only say what we want to hear and write when it suits those in power.

Going down this route has only served to encourage corruption and is why the media in this day and age is failing to tackle the judicial crisis. The last thing we expect from a former investigative journalist is how the media can be assisted to get to the stage where it can assist this country get to the First World status.

Even with its challenges, the media should be encouraged to function without fear and favour, and not be dragged back to the days of when it was only useful to run notices – for even then, Allister Miller had the economic freedom to do so. And that, I am afraid was over 100 years ago.

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