As I approached the T-junction in Mpika, on the Kasama Road, I saw about Four (4) Mazda Pick Ups and Two VX Landcuiser SUVs moving at a fast speed, taking up all the two lanes. I stood in awe, wondering what was happening because I only see such movements in Lusaka. Just as I was about to start off, another fleet of my earlier description approached, heading towards the western side of the Great North Road. I then drove to the filling station, where when I inquired from a Senior Policeman who was standing by the side, he told me it was a presidential motorcade used out of town. I went on to ask why there was more than one motorcades. Surprisingly, he told me they were more than the two I had seen. He went on to tell me almost each town had its motorcade. I looked at him with a smile on my face, not that I was impressed with the privileges that were attached to the presidency, but because I leant something new about the presidential movements.
In December 2015, the Secretary to the Cabinet, Rowland Msiska sent a circular to all Heads of Government Departments, explaining the changes in the definitions of different allowances paid to civil servants whilst on duty. The circular clearly stated that the allowances will only be paid when a worker leaves their work station, in this case, the district. Furthermore, the circular explained that the move was one of the austerity measures, aimed at reducing the costs government incurs on civil servants’ allowances which were ‘unnecessary’ and depleting the government treasury.
As I write this article, am meant to believe that many civil servants especially my colleagues from Ministry of Health who conduct a lot of Schedulable and Outreach Services, where they spend days away from home giving health care are wondering how they will go on with this work. We may be aware that this country has not yet developed to a level where health services are as close to everyone as possible. Zambia still has a huge population where the 5km radius standard does not exist. Throughout my 14 years of work as a health care manager in different parts of the country, mostly rural areas, I have served populations whose nearest facility is 0ver 100 Km away. Such populations depend on the outreach services for access to routine child immunizations, antenatal care, postnatal care and many other checkups. The long distance, coupled with bad terrains and lack of transport hinder easy access to health services. As if this is not enough, these are poor communities that do not have means of transport or finances when there is need for health services.
Consequently, the redefinition of a work station has made a lot of rural districts to suspend the conducting of outreach activities. Logically, the justification put forward is understandable, these hard working men and women cannot spend over 8 hours away from their static facilities without lunch allowances from the government. It is inhumane for the government to subject the people to these working conditions. Some spend close to a week conducting a round up on activities such as child immunization in these hard to reach areas; what does the government expect them to feed on? Since the 2016 Budget was passed, and these moneys were approved, where will the government take this money? Now that rural districts have suspended these activities, how will the set health indicators’ outlook be?
Now, as I draw my conclusions on my motorcade experience in my preamble, I thought the austerity measures could start from the top. Food for thought: Costly motor vehicles, Over 10,000 litres of fuel, wear and tear for the vehicles, Daily Subsistence Allowances for over 300 presidential operatives assigned to each trip, and many ministers and top government officials accompanying the president with their own assistants….. Are we that rich as Zambians??? Could these gallery trips by the president be as important as serving a generation of future leaders and the general citizenry? Are our priorities as a country upside down?
My advice to this government on this issue is to immediately rescind the decision on these much needed operational allowances for all civil servants especially in rural Zambia. This is affecting the work and care for the citizens. A lot of health programs have slumped due to this directive. Health care, especially in rural areas which are hard to reach has suffered. Time and again the government has complained about the massive brain drain that has affected the country and these are some of the reason why employees leave, unfavourable working conditions. Which civil servant will be ready to sacrifice under such difficult conditions when the top leadership are not applying the same austerity measures themselves? This is a clear absurd expectation from the policy makers.
Going forward, I urge the government to make wide consultations amongst stakeholders before coming up with certain policy statements which stifle productivity.
Concerned Health Manager