CWC condemns closure of FMC Owerri

The Central Working Committee of MHWUN met on Thursday, December 17, 2015, at the Medical and Health Lodge (Annexe), Life Camp, Abuja. As part of the CWC’s statutory tasks, the meeting deliberated on the finance committee’s appropriation proposals and ratified the 2016 MHWUN budget.

A major issue of concern which the CWC-in-session also discussed extensively, was the sudden closure of the Federal Medical Centre Owerri, by the Federal Government, on Wednesday, which Comrade Biobelemoye Josiah, the National President, described as ill-informed and indefensible.

The Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole announced the shutdown of the health facility at a press conference in Abuja. The reasons given for this draconian step are factually incorrect. According to the Minister, “the federal ministry of health is left with no other option than to temporarily shut down the federal medical centre, Owerri”, because workers had been on strike since April. The root of this phantom length of strike is supposed to be the introduction of Public Private Partnership at the Centre.

It is however noteworthy to point out, as the CWC-in-session observed, that:

  • Workers have not been on strike since April as claimed. There was a first wave of strike in May which ended in July. A second wave started in November 18. Thus, it is definitely improper to give the impression that workers have been on a long drawn strike since April;
  • It is true that the trade unions in principle, are against privatisation in the guise of PPP. It however is an assault on the sensibilities of the unions for the minister to allege that “the proposal (for PPP) was vehemently opposed by people who may have been benefitting from the system and went on to incite the unions.” Unions do not need anybody to incite them, as workers and citizens, we can analyse reality ourselves. The track record of PPPs is nothing to write home about, particularly with regards to health services delivery. Health, it must be remembered, is a human right;
  • More importantly, it has to be stressed that the waves of strikes had absolutely nothing to do with the PPP proposal. The two issues at stake are corruption and highhandedness by Dr Angela Uwakwem, the Medical Director. The details of these have been spelt out in several correspondences and meetings with the Federal Government thus:

ð Financial misappropriation, including the shady virement of budgetary provisions for personnel costs into capital projects;

ð The MD’s drawing of overtime in contravention of PSR 130117;

ð Employment racketeering;

ð Illegal payment of salary and emoluments;

ð Illegal withdrawal of over N500million;

ð Duplication of payment voucher numbers;

ð Ghost projects;

ð Ghost workers and overblown personnel budget;

ð Unaccounted IGR;

ð Purchase of coaster and Hilux jeep, as well as payment of consultancy fees for Rt Hon Ikedioha’s campaign with FMC funds;

ð Highhandedness including outright victimisation of workers.

  • A fact finding committee was setup to look into the administrative dimensions of these allegations, while the EFCC is to look into the aspects of financial impropriety and corruption;
  • It was particularly shocking to the union that the Federal Ministry of Health could arrive at the conclusion of closure of the FMC Owerri after extensive meetings it held with the trade unions recently, where the facts of the matter were not in dispute and a way forward based on this agreed upon, only for a mirage of opposition to PPPs proposal to now be invoked in a bid to give a dog a bad name so as to hang it;
  • The CWC-in-session was of the view that this rather curious development might not be unconnected with the fact that a capital vote of N300m is in the offing that the exit of Dr Uwakwem as demanded by virtually every cadre of workers in the facility might make impossible for her and her collaborators in high places to access.

In the light of the foregoing, the CWC-in-session demanded the immediate re-opening of the FMC Owerri. MHWUN in conjunction with sister unions in the FMC will resist this questionable shutdown. The CWC-in-session also noted that the present impasse is a test case for the federal government’s avowed commitment to stamping out corruption, within the industrial relations system.

In the coming days, MHWUN, working together with sister JOHESU unions in the hospital (NANNM and NUAHP) will issue directives to its members on the next step in this present phase of the struggle for the soul of Federal Medical Centre Owerri, which is a major front in our struggle for quality health and respect for trade union rights. We will dare to struggle and thus, we dare to win!