The Herald (Harare)

25 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Council Medical Aid Faces Collapse

HARARE City Council's medical aid society faces collapse after council failed to remit over US$4 million in deductions from workers' salaries for nearly a year. This has left thousands of council workers stranded as they fail to access medical facilities because they are in arrears.

Council has an obligation to remit workers' deductions to Harare Municipality Medical Aid Society (HMMAS) every month.

But the local authority failed to remit US$2 289 797 from general council workers, US$2 129 830 from Harare Water workers and US$520 000 from Rufaro Marketing workers.

The Harare Municipality Workers Union (HMWU) and the Zimbabwe Urban Councils Workers Union have since written to Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda demanding the money owed to the medical aid.

The letter was copied to Local Government, Rural and Urban Development Minister Ignatius Chombo and his Labour and Social Services counterpart Paurina Mpariwa.

HMWU executive chairman Mr Cosmas Bungu said some workers died after failing to access medical services.

Others were now consulting traditional healers and faith healers because they did not have an alternative.

Mr Bungu said they could not rule out going on strike if council continued to withhold the funds.

The medical aid society wrote to council demanding the remittances since January 17, but got no response.

"May we point out that deducting funds from our members and not remitting same for the intended use is tantamount to fraud and is illegal," reads part of the letter.

"In the mean time, we have instructions from our members to demand payment of the money with immediate effect."

The medical aid society said the demand was without prejudice to any course of law that may expedite recovery of sums due and owing to enable HMMAS to renew its license for 2013.

Mayor Masunda confirmed that the local authority was in arrears to HMMAS.

"The issue was raised during our last full council meeting and we are making arrangements to clear the arrears," he said.

The mayor said it did not make sense to deduct contributions from workers and fail to remit them.

"We have an anomalous situation where council is owed more than US$200 million by ratepayers and the Government.

"Recently, we engaged the Ministry of Finance and they made a commitment of paying US$50 million of the Government debt."

The mayor reiterated that they had an obligation of serving the workers and would not prejudice them in future.

The Government recently said it would ban medical aid societies that fail to clear arrears to service providers by the end of this month.

Late payment for services has resulted in specialists like anaesthetists, orthopedics, neurologists and physicians demanding cash upfront from patients with valid medical aid cards.

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