PRESIDENT Jakaya Kikwete has reiterated that the ongoing strike by medical doctors is illegal and their demands are unrealistic considering government efforts to improve their welfare.
In his monthly address to the nation, the president also cautioned the doctors, who are on strike, that they risk losing their jobs and interns may never become registered doctors.
Mr Kikwete said that the government has made efforts to meet most of the doctors' demands, noting that some of their requests were beyond the government's means and that they (the doctors) have been receiving preferential treatment as it is.
"Some of the doctors' demands are far-fetched like the increment in salaries. The government simply cannot give in to all that the doctors wish. If there are those who are not satisfied then they can just leave public service," he said. The president further said that the decision by doctors to go on strike is against court orders and is also in violation of doctors' ethics.
"On June 22 this year, the Attorney General took the matter to the High Court (Labour Division) which decided that the strike should not go on. "The President of Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT), Dr Namala Mkopi, disowned the strike but the doctors did not end it (the strike)," he said.
The president said that it is important for the doctors and their leaders to realize that they are involved in an illegal matter and that they may lose their jobs and will have nowhere and no one to turn to. He said that out of the 12 issues of contention, seven have been agreed upon and the government is still working on improving their welfare.
At the moment, he noted, doctors get paid twice as much as graduates who start employment in the civil service and thus some of their demands are misplaced. Mr Kikwete called on doctors who feel that the government cannot pay them well enough to leave on their own free will instead of going on strike and forcing their employer to take disciplinary action against them.
"We have agreed on several issues including increasing allowances for doctors and their assistants and we can only ask the doctors to understand the government's position," the president said. Among the demands that the government has failed to agree with the doctors is the starting salary for a doctor of 3.5m/-. President Kikwete noted that the State is ready to increase the current pay by 20 per cent as it will do to all civil servants this financial year.
"The doctors also wanted changes in the Ministry of Health, and we have made the changes but they still chose to go on strike. This is not right," he said. On the issue of Dr Stephen Ulimboka who was last Wednesday abducted, tortured and dumped at Mabwepande, the president said that he has called on security organs to carefully investigate the matter and establish the truth.
He said that the government has no vested interest in torturing Dr Ulimboka or anyone else for that matter, who is involved in negotiations between the government and doctors. The president said that he is aware of suspicions that the government is involved in the matter but wonders why the State would want to do such a thing.
"I am surprised at such suspicions. There is nothing to gain by doing such a thing to anyone. I have called for prompt investigation so that the truth is established soon in a quest to end the accusations," he said. Meanwhile, the president has expressed concerns over human trafficking and called on authorities to be more vigilant.
Mid-last week 43 Ethiopian nationals were found dead and 84 others in critical condition in Chitego village, Kongwa district, Dodoma region. The Ethiopians are said to have been trafficked into the country on their way to Malawi and later South Africa where they would have been transported to Europe and America.
President Kikwete said that the incident was saddening and noted that he has called for cooperation with neighbouring countries to end the illegal trade in people which is demeaning and life-threatening.