By Iyke Godwin
The lingering crisis of the Federal Medical Centre Owerri has entered its eight straight weeks. For the stated period, the workers of the institution have engaged the management on an endless battle insisting that the Medical Director of the hospital Dr. Mrs. Angela Uwakwem must be suspended and probed for the hospital to function again. The irredeemable breakdown of industrial harmony resulted from the startling discoveries made by staff bordering on financial misappropriation of an alarming rate. The original intention of the house unions was to ascertain the appropriateness or otherwise of the public private partnership embarked upon by the management of the hospital without recourse to lay down rules and procedure. It would be recalled that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration toyed with the idea of Public Private Partnership (PPP) as a way of attracting private investment to the health care sector, however certain conditions were outlined as pre-requisite for PPP to arise.
In any health institution, primary of the conditions include lack of efficiency accountability and acute need for infrastructure. To the bewilderment of the unions, the management without any reasonable justification other than selfish interest embarked on PPP with reckless abandon. The unions then embarked on a mission to ascertain the appropriateness of the exercise. It was in the course of this independent investigation by the unions that huge financial fraud being perpetrated against the staff and government were discovered.
For record purposes, according to the PPP official document, there must be inefficiency on the part of concerned department and the private partner must commit huge resources on investment in the department for PPP to exist. No single investments were made by these unknown firms who are mere milking pipes for the medical director. How can you declare the entire hospital inefficient when over five hundred million naira is generated internally? As at the time this industrial disharmony started, eight departments had been privatized with five more at the concluding stage of hand over. This resulted in further increase in the already high cost of healthcare regime in the hospital. For instance, deposit for the new mortuary constructed by the federal government was fixed at one hundred thousand naira. The accident and emergency department had their bills fixed for three thousand naira per night for only accommodation, delivery packs for pregnant women previously provided for n1500 became n10,000. Every single thing in FMC Owerri had the cost quadrupled or more.
The unions discovered to our chagrin that the sole purpose of embarking on PPP was to create an impression that all the money generated in FMC Owerri belongs to private firms so as to prevent the federal government from enforcing the policy of remittance of internally generated revenue to the federal government account as initiated by Ngozi Okonjo Iweala. It would interest us to know that it is only in Federal Medical Centre Owerri that charges are still being paid in the name of disposables used for the prevention of ebola till date, every visiting or new patient pays it, that brought consultation fee to N500 from N300. It is only in FMC Owerri that feeding bill is N1800 daily and it is compulsory for every patient. It is only in FMC Owerri that you enter some clinics and pay N2300 as card fee before you see a doctor. It is only in FMC Owerri that deposits of minimum of N50, 000 is required as deposit before admission to a ward, it is only in FMC Owerri that patients of the national health insurance scheme access quite few selected services as others are clearly not covered under FMC NHIS.
It would interest us to know that a staff of the hospital had surgery in University of Ife teaching hospital, caesarian section, was admitted for two weeks, sumptuously fed and was given a bill of ten naira (N10,00)simply because she is covered under the national health insurance scheme as a staff of a federal establishment. FMC Owerri under Dr. Mrs Angela Uwakwem typifies the most inhuman management anywhere in this country. Certain categories of staff have remained on level 3 for over ten years simply because the medical director has refused to allow them cross that cadre. Ordinarily the highest level for junior cadre is six so why are people on 3 for over a decade. Why would a senior staff without any justifiable reason remain on level 9 for nine years now? It is only in FMC Owerri that before you get a query for an alleged misconduct, your salary would have been stopped.
The medical director knows everything and is head of everything. Employments are made with new staff placed on level 7 in paper and paid level 6 in salary, hundreds of staff had their appointment papers back dated by several months even up to a year all to cover personnel funds misappropriated. Members of Staff are recklessly sacked for the minutest of issues including N200, N1500 etc. Documents to back my assertions are inexhaustible. Without mincing words, the staff of FMC Owerri earns the lowest salaries and allowances when compared with our colleagues in similar hospitals. Several allowances earmarked for payment by government is diverted by the medical director who owns mansions and assets here and there. In FMC Owerri, you cannot be promoted unless you belong to a clique of spies maintained in every unit by the medical director. Experiences abound where people have been given names of people to spy on as a pre-condition for one favour or the other. In neighboring FMC Umuahia, there are thirty five assistant directors of nursing simply because they have merited it but in FMC Owerri promotion to that rank was done only once about five years ago and no more for any single reason even though the only remaining three are almost retiring.
If the CMD is sincere, why was a staff of the hospital who went to Abuja IPPIS office to correct his salary imbalances queried and summoned to a panel of Top Management Committee (TMC)? Before now when management was paying salaries, approximately a hundred and fifty million naira remains in the personnel account after payment of salaries every month, someone should help me calculate the total amount after twelve months, yet no returns goes to Abuja so where does it go. The CMD is so insensitive to the plight of the staff that when Abuja started paying directly, she connived with them to ensure we are not adequately paid thus starving her staff all in an attempt to prevent staff from discovering their real salary which has been underpaid all along. The entire structures being created in the centre are direct federal government projects contained in the national budget so where do all these internally generated revenue (IGR) money go to. The newest ultra modern CT scan machine sells for a little above forty million, so how come N168 million was spent buying ctscan. Let the medical director tell the world how she vired n241 million from personnel cost to capital against the advice of the head of account (on condition of financial regulation) , who authorized it, clear fake document paraded as virement approval.
Who runs the drug revolving fund: let the director explain the rationale behind the drug revolving fund in the hospital. The over N150 million she claims is being used to stock drugs is known to her and her alone. Which pharmacy store stocks drugs worth half that amount and how much does the hospital owe drug suppliers for the pharmacy to be worth such huge amount. Let the MD who claims the money for promotion arrears has not come tell the world what the personnel money that she fraudulently vired was originally meant for. I wonder at the brazen display of a lying syndrome by the medical director. The CMD claims to have gotten the consent of the unions and i want to ask, at what point was this matter ever discussed. Which unions did she discuss with? The unions only heard of the PPP because the pharmacy and laboratory departments were penciled down for privatization and it was not possible to have been done without the top management committee knowing. The TMC rejected the evil plan and from hearsay they learnt the departments are to be privatized. On further inquiry as to the need for the privatization, they were shocked to discover that many departments had already been sold. They were agitated and wrote management only for the MD to go on hot.fm the next day to peddle lies against the unions. They have written relevant agencies, but it is on record that the EFCC had indicted MD several times and her PDP cohorts saved her. Her husband, a dental technologist continues to earn the salaries of a dental surgeon even with the matter in court. For how long shall we continue to allow evil to plaque us? On her issues with the resident doctors, that would honestly take another page as illegalities perpetrated against them by management would exhaust pages of this medium.
Their problem is obviously not a national one; anyone living in Owerri knows the resident doctors have had their share of MD’s high handedness. How would she say it’s a national problem, they were the first to demand for her sack last year. The medical director runs the establishment like a private hospital solely owned by her. Every other person’s opinion is inconsequential and of no effect. There is an igbo saying that “ ebe onye ekwuru ekwu no, onye mmemme no ebe ahu” meaning that wherever anybody who talks so much is, someone who does so much is there. For the past two years, it has been one form of industrial disharmony or the other. If it is not with one profession, it would be with one union. There is a need to get to the root of this debacle once and for all. We cannot all be toiling for the benefit of one woman. People are hoodwinked to believe that FMC is developing but that is far from the truth. If the centre is developing let the medical director tell the world where funds released for the gas piping of the hospital by the federal government is, let her give us a reason why house officers who are merely on one year internship are paying n14,000 monthly for a room apartment constructed by the federal government. Which hospital in Nigeria charges her house officers that amount; in most northern hospitals it is entirely free. Imo people should not be fooled. Students on industrial attachment from whichever school come to fmc owerri and pay bench fee ranging from N10,000 to N50,000 while working for the hospital, that has discouraged students who ought to benefit from the manpower available while the state grows with her citizens better trained. Everything in FMC is money. The health care sector is the number one “oil money” or benefits the federal government banqueted to the citizenry.
Every single expenditure incurred by the hospital is provided for by Abuja with the internally generated revenue left for the management of the hospital . It is however disheartening that here in lmo, the hospital has been converted into a money spinning machine for a single woman who knows everything. It may sound funny but a staff has been queried for eating remains of food after being so exhausted in the office with nowhere to buy food as entire food vendors had closed. The union leaders were queried for going on air to state the true financial position of the centre. so who is selling dummies to the public that FMC is broke. The prolonged strike is honestly against the staff wish but they have been pushed to a point of no return, where evil can no longer be allowed to triumph over good, a point where the records must be made straight. The government of Muhammadu Buhari must hear their cries and put an end to this money medical centre director.
The agitations of the staff of FMC hinges on allegations of gross financial misconduct perpetrated by the medical director ranging from illegal virement of funds from personal funds to capital cost where she has personal interest, embezzling of the funds meant for the gas piping of the hospital, paying herself overtime as a level 17 officer against civil service rules while denying those that are entitled to it, underpayment of staff salaries etc. She cannot be probed while still in office, let her step down, FMC Owerri is the only functional hospital in Imo state according to Governor Rochas Okorocha. This precious gift must be saved from further looting and returned to the path of progress. The md cannot be a judge in her own case. She must step aside to be probed in accordance with civil service rules which the management board has amply recommended. If the probe panel certifies her innocent, they will allow her come back but if not ’to her tent oh Israel’. The time to act is now or never.