ON FIRE; Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Health Minister
By PATRICK JARAMOGI
KAMPALA-SHIFTMEDIA- Despite being one of the nation’s frontline workers, their quandary to lead a positive life remains pitiful.
This is the agony the nurses, midwives, and nursing assistants have to undergo as they continue to earn a paltry shs3,000 and shs2,000 as lunch allowance.
As we publish this, over 18,000 of them are on strike, the reason being a cabinet minister defying a presidential order to honor their request for a lunch allowance increase.
When the news of their strike was announced by Cherop Justas Kiplangat, the President of Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union (UNMU), we at ShiftMedia News dug deeper, like we always do to ascertain what went wrong.
We established that some ‘elements’, at the helm of the Ministry of Health, had deliberately decided to defy the fountain of Honor by diverting the shs70b meant for nurses.
Background to the industrial action
Last year in October 2020, the UNMU wrote to the government regarding a planned nationwide strike starting on December 31, 2021, after the government failed to fulfill President Museveni’s continued pledge to increase lunch allowances for nurses and midwives.
After a protracted dialogue between the union, Ministry of Public Service, and Ministry of Health officials, a compromise was reached and the strike called off.
The Minister for Public Service Hon Muruli Mukasa assured the nurses that the government was going to sort their issue come 2021.
In a January 29 2021 letter to the Secretary-General UNMU that we obtained (above), Muruli said the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda had instructed the Finance Ministry to release shs70b for nurses lunch allowances.
Rugunda in his missive dated 29th January 2021 to Hon Matia Kasaija, the Finance Minister instructed that shs70.5b be included in the 2021/22 budget to cater for lunch allowances for nurses, midwives and nursing assistants as per the presidential pledge.
Hon Matia Kasaija revealed that these funds were duly included in the budget as instructed, clearing his hand of any wrong doing.
What went wrong
Our findings within the precincts of the Health Ministry were rather hair-raising, given the fact that all the line ministers are medics, who apart from being Members of Parliament know very well what nurses and midwives are going through.
To be frank and honest here, none of the ministers, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, Moriku Kaducu (Primary Health Care), or Robina Nabanjja (General Duties) can have lunch of shs3,000 given their status.
President Museveni had directed that lunch allowances for nurses that were shs3,000 and shs2,000 for nursing assistants be increased to only shs15,000.
According to our sources, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng decided that these funds meant for nurses’ lunch be rather channeled to pay consultants. She declined to comment when we approached her.
But our sources close to the accounts department at the Ministry headed by the accounting officer, Dr. Diana Atwine revealed that the shs70b was diverted. When this news leaked, the nurses decided to strike to send their message clear.
May 5 2021 was Nurses Day, as usual celebrations were conducted this time at Tick Hotel in Kawempe. But very serious warnings were issued to Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng for defying presidential directives regarding payment of nurse’s lunch allowance.
Usher Wilson Owere the Chairman General National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) said: “People are undermining the president. Why did they touch the nurses’ money at this material time.”
He said the President had pledged three times prompting the Prime Minister to write to the Finance Minister authorizing payments. “Why is this money being diverted. My request to you is to let this money be released immediately because the budget hasn’t reached anywhere, if they tamper with this money they will see what the workers will do,” warned Owere.
He added: “We have been quiet for a long time, this time we shall not seat and watch as nurses’ money is squandered.” Owere also warned the ministers that a new regime is underway after swearing-in.
“Under the new regime, we shall not tolerate any miss use of tax payers money. We shall follow every money to the dot,” he said.
“MPs are going to get shs200m for cars these nurses are only asking for lunch, nothing more, it is terrible,” said Owere.
The President Uganda Nurses Union Cherop Kiplangat said the money for the nurse’s lunch had been categorized as “unfunded priorities” by Health Minister Aceng.
“These are people defying presidential orders. The budget is called an funded priority, why is this called so. If they can minimize the President do you think they will respect the nurses? Asked Kiplangat.
Robinah Nabanjja who was the chief guest at the event promised to have the impulse resolved. We have established that top Ministry of Health officials is due to hold meetings with Ministry of Public Service Minister Muruli Mukasa today.