Fresh details have emerged how Ugandan government hatched the plan to dump local doctors for their Cuban counterparts.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer the June 2016 audit queries on Wednesday, Health Ministry officials led by Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry had hard times answering questions related to government’s decision to hire Cuban doctors.
Gerald Karuhanga, Vice Chairperson PAC asked Atwine to explain how the decision to bring in Cuban doctors was arrived at; “How much they should earn, who prepared this and where did this come from?”
Atwine informed Parliament that the meeting that came up with the decision to bring in Cuban doctors was held at State House with officials from Ministries of Finance, Health, Public Service, Ministry of Gender and Labour Health Service Commission.
She added that the President asked why not look at other alternatives if Government was going to be put at ransom by the striking doctors.
Questions were also raised on the team that went to Cuba to hold talks after it was discovered that the team constituted Minister of Health, Chairman Health Service Commission, Deputy Secretary to Treasury, Solicitor General, Permanent Secretary Public Service and Chairman Medical council.
MPs wondered which technical person represented the Ministry of Health with Theodore Ssekikubo MP (Lwemiyaga County) asking: “Do you want to say you didn’t have any technical input in that decision to import Cuban doctors? Health is your docket, you can talk of all Ministries, but how could others get involved without your input? “
Atwine insisted the decision was suggested and brought on board by the President.
It should be recalled that while addressing gussets during the International Labour Day celebrations in Sembabule district on Tuesday, President Yoweri Museveni explained reasons why Government was set on importing Cuban doctors, saying the local doctors behaved very badly and unprofessionally.
The President was quoted saying: “The doctors who went on strike made me want to go back to the bush. The issue of Cuban doctors which I keep hearing about, I wanted to bring Cuban doctors because our own doctors behaved very badly and unprofessionally, they tried to incite their fellow doctors to leave patients to die but they failed.”
Museveni’s remarks didn’t only generate debate in public alone, but Parliament as well where MPs raised a stream of questions on how the project would be implemented.
Committee Chairperson, Angelline Osegge wondered why the Ministry of Health thought importing Cuban doctors would be the best solution to the plight of the local medical workers.
“The basis for bringing in these doctors you have said was just because the doctors in Uganda were holding you at ransom it isn’t because you needed extra hands it isn’t because you are short of doctors. Didn’t you think, if the doctors here were complaining of low pay you could have raised their money even less than half you are paying Cuban doctors instead of bringing Cuban doctors,” asked Osegge.
She added: “You are still not attending to the problems of your own doctors and you are ignoring them, it isn’t because you want them to get support from other people from outside, but because you want to ignore them. You don’t care whether they cry, whether they complain.”
Atwine assured MPs that the Ministry gave technical input with the Health Service Commission, tabling evidence of the employment gap in the country’s health facilities.
She added that the Cuban doctors to be brought would be specialists aimed at bridging the gap because intern doctors had raised concerns of not having enough training centers and specialists to train them.
The Permanent Secretary went on revealing that efforts by Health Service Commission to hire specialists have been futile, with no interest expressed in the positions.
When asked why the positions don’t attract specialists, Atwine said she was not aware of the reasons, saying the questions can be better answered by the Commission.
But her response was rubbished by Karuhanga who reminded Atwine of the fact that she is also a medical doctor, and thus shouldn’t be oblivious of the conditions fellow doctors are working in.