3 January 2019

Zimbabwe: Doctors' Strike - ED Cuts Leave

Photo: New Zimbabwe
Striking doctors.

President Mnangagwa has cut short his leave to work closely with Vice President Constantino Chiwenga to make quick decisions to restore sanity to the health sector in light of the ongoing illegal strike by junior doctors. Presidential spokesperson Mr George Charamba yesterday confirmed the Head of State was back at work to attend to challenges in the health sector.

He said extraordinary decisions would be taken in the coming days to stop further destruction of the health sector and loss of life.

This comes amid reports that the Joint Operations Command (JOC) met this week to deliberate on issues affecting the health sector.

Mr Charamba, who is also the Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet (Presidential Communications), also warned opposition parties and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to stay out of the impasse between doctors and the Health Services Board (HSB).

"Administratively and legally, there is a limit to powers which an Acting President can wield," said Mr Charamba.

"And in any event, the style has always been that the Acting President consults with the substantive President. Now in this particular case we have a serious situation in the health sector involving lives and naturally, the President has to demonstrate concern and that concern comes by way of cutting short his leave in order to work closely with the Acting President so that consultations are short circuited.

"It's really for purposes of quick decision making given that there has to be constant consultation between the two. In fact, barely a day passes without telephone communication between the Acting President and the President. Now the President has come to deal with a situation in situ and that is meant to demonstrate seriousness of Government's approach to issues," added Mr Charamba.

He said the President would resume his leave once the issue is resolved.

Mr Charamba said idle speculation being pushed in some sections of the media of a rift between President Mnangagwa and Vice President Chiwenga was false.

"It (coming of the President) is also meant to send a clear signal to the striking doctors that this is not a Chiwenga issue," he said.

"It is an issue for the Presidency. They are at one on this one because the matter is a serious one."

He said to show the gravity of the matter, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) met this week to discuss the health sector.

"When you see levers of State security coming into the game then you know it is no longer child's play. Government is treating this matter as a serious one because it involves lives. Because it is serious, we are set to see extraordinary decisions being taken to put an end to this issue once and for all. We will not have any such development ever again in this country. We have had enough and the time has now come for us to take a very definitive position on the matter. We have a whole raft of measures that we are going to take and to the extent that some of the measures will have budgetary implications, it means the President has to be back. Yesterday (Tuesday), the Acting President briefed the President right into close to midnight. They were working and this is where most of the decisions were taken," said Mr Charamba.

He said opposition parties wanted to turn a labour issue political.

"I want to indicate clearly that this hanky-panky business must just come to an end," he said.

"They must get out of the issue between the doctors and Health Services Board. There is no place absolutely and they better be warned. We have human and constitutional rights which can be enjoyed by any and every citizen but all these rights are predicated on the right to life. The matter on hand relates to right to life and once we pit that against all other rights, the rest of the rights become second order rights. We will be releasing more information regarding sinister plots which were being done by opposition parties and their NGOs. These include minutes of the two meetings they recently held. We will be making those available to the public domain. That is why we are treating it as a state security issue," said Mr Charamba.

Government has offered to review health workers' allowances in April, together with those of the rest of the civil service.

It also assured the health workers that the remaining $6 million vehicle loan scheme coupled with a duty-free facility would be made available.

The doctors have turned down the offer. They embarked on strike at the beginning of last month demaning to be paid their salaries in US dollars and better working conditions. The doctors ignored an ultimatum by the Labour Court to return to work after it ruled the industrial action illegal because they offer an essential service.

Mr Charamba said the President was also back at work to receive credentials from three new envoys.

"We have three envoys who have come into the country from very friendly countries and the President wants to receive credentials from them," he said.

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