Monday, November 04, 2013

HH a merchant of death - Sata
By Mwala Kalaluka
Fri 11 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

PRESIDENT Michael Sata yesterday described UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema as a callous 'merchant of death' who is attempting to gain cheap political mileage from the nurses' and midwives' strike when multitudes of Zambians' lives are at stake.

But Hichilema says he is wholeheartedly behind the striking nurses and midwives and has urged the government to meet their demands as promised instead of issuing threats of dismissals.

Commenting on Hichilema's solidarity visit to the University Teaching Hospital UTH where he met the striking health workers, President Sata stated the overture was aimed at inciting the nurses, pharmacists and midwives not to return for work.

President Sata stated that it was unfortunate that the UPND leader had embarked on a 'cruel and self-centred' mission of encouraging striking health workers without regard for innocent people's lives.

President Sata also wondered how Hichilema expected Zambians particularly the relatives and friends of those suffering as a result of the strike to vote for him, if he was in the forefront of cheering the striking workers.

"Mr Hichilema's cheap attempt to gain political mileage from strikes when multitudes of our people's lives are at stake is not only regrettable but callous. This level of self-centredness and desperation should be avoided by leaders especially those seeking public office," President Sata said in a statement issued by his special assistant for press and public relations George Chellah.

President Sata urged the striking nurses, pharmacists and midwives to resume work immediately stating that the Government was handling their matter competently.

Hichilema in his address to the striking UTH nurses and midwives said when people fail to reason, they resort to brutality.

"The Minister of Health must be ashamed to threaten dismissal of nurses and midwives who were promised huge increments and have only been given four per cent. He has received 100 per cent increase, and he should not even attempt to threaten the nurses," he said.

"If you can't dialogue, if they don't listen to you, how will the problem be solved? But you must know that there are people out there whose minds, whose hearts are with you and I am one of them."

Hichilema claimed that the government was unable to resolve the nurses' strike on time because of its poor policy and management approach.

"The PF government is failing to meet its commitments to the people. The nurses are not in the wards. There is no one dispensing medicine, patients who could live are dying. It is not the nurses causing the death," he said.

Hichilema said it was the nurses' constitutional right to express themselves on such matters.

In May 2010, President Sata as opposition leader then, also visited Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) workers who were striking. Upon seeing President Sata, the workers explained their problems to him and sort his intervention.

In response, President Sata pleaded with the workers to return to work because they were dealing with a vicious government, which would victimise them, especially the junior workers.

"Write your demands on a piece of paper so that we can present it on your behalf. Let's meet tomorrow at my office. But tell the people to go back for work because the junior workers are the ones who are going to be victimised more," said President Sata then.

President Sata's dealing with striking workers as an opposition leader had changed from his 2005 strategy where he openly incited workers to go on strike.

In July 2005, President Sata openly said he had incited the miners on the Copperbelt and dared late Levy Mwanawasa to arrest him.

President Sata had cautioned that the then strike by Konkola Copper Mines workers was the beginning of worse things to come.

"What has happened at KCM is just the tip of the iceberg. PF will bring back the same militancy that existed in the mine unions during the days of the late Lawrence Katilungu and Justin Chimba, just to fight corruption," said President Sata then.

"PF is requesting all the mine employees to reorganise themselves so that next time its not restricted to KCM alone. We are regrouping, its not Mwila (Davis) who is inciting the miners, it's the entire PF structure...it's the PF policy to bring sanity to the Zambian workers."

Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to President Sata dated October 9, Hichilema said he went to the UTH to carry out an on-the-ground assessment of the situation.

"Our finding is that the nurses and midwives are still on strike and the pharmacy is still closed, contrary to public media reports," Hichilema stated.

"We are concerned with the current standoff between your government and the nurses and midwives. In typical fashion, your government has negated its earlier pledge to increase their salaries by 200% and has effected increases of up to 4% only."

He stated that the government's programme of harmonisation of salaries was being implemented in a haphazard manner and, in the process, demoralising the health professionals.

"Whilst we appreciate that non-professionals have to earn a living wage, professionals ought to be rewarded appropriately because of their qualifications and experience," he stated in part.

"We urge you to urgently intervene in this matter by committing to reward nurses and midwives according to your government's earlier promise. Threats of dismissal is not part of the solution to this problem. It is no secret that some of you in the Executive got your 100% increment and you are paid on time. It is only morally right that you do the same for the nurses and midwives."

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission says the current strike action in the health sector will have a negative bearing on people's ability to fully enjoy their inalienable right to health and eventually, even the right to life.

In a statement following the strike action by nurses over anomalies in the recently granted salary increments, Commission spokesperson Samuel Kasankha stated that even on a normal day, when all health staff were present at their work stations, there were a lot of challenges in health care administration arising from shortages of staff.

"The strike action will tend to cause more inconveniences for clients seeking medical attention, such that permanent disability and/or loss of lives cannot be discounted as possible consequences. We therefore humbly call on the striking workers to resume work and allow dialogue to continue with government over their grievances. We trust that Government has the ability to address all concerns and shall endeavor to do so," Kasankha stated.

He also cautioned opposition political leaders to carefully weigh the situation before commenting on the strike in a manner that appears to encourage it.

We are very uncomfortable with any stance that encourages confrontation between the workers and Government and the prolongation of this needless standoff. Life is sacrosanct and we, together, must promote only those actions that will preserve it," stated Kasankha.

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