Corruption watch: No will to end PSMAS crisis

The red flags were flying for a long time at PSMAS and no one cared

There is no doubt that before some people developed huge appetites and cocky characters, the Public Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) and Public Medical Aid Investments (PSMI) were glittering cases of how to serve.

Things flowed well. Civil servants, then technically the owners of PSMAS, got value for money, and getting sick wasn’t so much of bad news as it is now, so to speak.

Thanks to corruption and bad governance, the two institutions are, pun intended, in the intensive care unit now. You should have been there in Harare just recently when PSMI employees protested. One young mother wailed long and loud about how she and her child were suffering because of the mismanagement at the institution.

She had gone for a long time without a salary. And that was the same case with hundreds of other employees at PSMI and PSMAS.

Close to 200 PSMI medical centres have shut down. Medicines, ambulances and related equipment are in short supply. That’s a euphemism to say there is nothing. Even as things are happening this way, there are more managers at PSMI than loose Panadol pills. That, of course, is as absurd as it is an irony. We hear that the managers are now taking a bath in the morning to come and count the growing number of roaches and rats at the PSMI centres.

There is another problem. Lots of fraudulent issues are happening at the PSMI centres that are still “operational”. The patient, but also desperate civil service patients who are still contributing to the public medical aid scheme are being referred to those centres. Thing is, nothing — absolutely nothing—is taking place there.

Once they get there, they are quickly referred to private surgeries and medical facilities where those that are supposed to be working at the PSMI centres have business interests. Modestly speaking, that’s manipulation of the patients. More seriously, that’s criminal abuse of office.

The rot at both PSMAS and PSMI was always coming. For more than a decade, lots of despicable things were happening and nobody was caring a hoot about it. You already know about how some boss was drawing around half a million quid a month in salaries and allowances. About how board members were drawing thousands in allowances at every single sitting.

PSMAS in particular had become such a cash cow, thanks to government and civil servants' contributions. Predictably, corruption became a culture. Have you noticed how, in Zimbabwe, corruption becomes such big business at every cash-rich public institution? We all know how “cursed” the National Social Security Authority and the Zimbabwe National Roads Authority, among others, have become.

The biggest challenge is that those that are supposed to act on the offending public entities habitually look the other way. In the case of PSMAS, the red flags were flying for a long time. But the culprits were too close to those that make or are supposed to make the ultimate decisions. There is, therefore, a sense in which the powers-that-be have been acting in criminal collusion with the offenders.

This evident inaction has come with nasty ramifications. Employees at PSMI, PSMAS and other big public institutions are suffering. They are no longer able to put food on the table. The affected parents and guardians are struggling to keep their dependents in school.

And the civil servants cannot access affordable medical services. That means that these government employees are dying silently. While they still contribute to the public medical aid scheme, they are being forced to use the little that they get from side hustling at expensive hospitals and clinics that demand cash up front.

Puzzlingly, there is neither haste nor will on the part of top decision-makers to bring sanity back to such institutions like PSMI and PSMAS. Government initiated a forensic audit of both PSMAS and PSMI mid-last year. We are now, therefore, coming to nine months since the audit started. Before we know it, it will be a year and we will still be waiting for the audit results.

Granted, a forensic audit, by its very form and nature, requires time. But where you are dealing with a big crisis such as the one at PSMAS and PSMI, nine months is too long a time. The longer it takes, the more the house burns and when the audit is finally done, the auditors will come back to rubble and ruins.

It’s not even certain if the audit will be completed or its results publicly announced. We have had so many audits whose fate remains a mystery. They ordered an audit of the Marange diamonds when ex-president Robert Mugabe was still around. We don’t know what happened with that one.

Then there was an agricultural land audit that the post-Mugabe administration, for unknown reasons, has decided to keep in the vault. There are so many other audits and inquiries whose results remain a mystery. So, if you were to use history to make conclusions, the audit of PSMI and PSMAS is a long throw.

But that’s a bad thing to do for those decision-makers, VP Chiwenga — who doubles as Health minister — included.

The audit is important to know what has been happening at the two public health institutions so as to come up with sustainable solutions. It was encouraging that government availed billions of local dollars as part of a rescue plan for PSMI and PSMAS.

However, there is no doubt that no matter how much they will pour into the two institutions, things will never work out if we won’t make enough effort to identify the root causes. While those billions have been given to PSMI and PSMAS from late last year, employees are still protesting for their salaries and better working conditions.

What this all means is that there must be real will and wish for things to be righted at PSMAS, PSMI and other public entities.

*Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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