The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has quizzed officials from the Ministry of Health to explain the genesis of the decision to employ Cuban doctors in the country’s health facilities.
Government recently announced it would employ over 200 Cuban doctors in the countryside and hard to reach health facilities all over the country, a matter which has attracted debate.
On Wednesday, health ministry officials led by the Permanent Secretary Dr. Diana Atwiine were tasked to explain how they arrived at the decision to bring in the foreign doctors despite the presence of a number of locally and equally qualified doctors in the country.
“How did you arrive at the decision of how much they (Cuban doctor) should earn, who prepared this and where did this come from,” MP Gerald Karuhanga questioned.
The legislators sitting on the Public Accounts committee quizzed the officials on the thinking behind the move and why government has continuously ignored the plight of the local doctors which recently forced them to lay down tools.
In response, Dr. Atwiine explained that a meeting sat and among the options presented to solve the problem of striking doctors was to hire Cubans to do the job.
“The meeting was widely attended by representatives from Ministries; Finance, Health, Public Service, Gender and Labour , Health Service Commission and in that meeting, the president (Museveni) asked that why don’t we look at alternatives if we are going to be put to ransom(by the doctors),” Dr Atwiine told PAC on Wednesday.
“There were a number of discussions in that meeting and he (president) instructed the Prime Minister to ensure we look at that option(of bringing Cuban doctors). The decision stayed up at the time because people were looking at how best this can be done.”
Asked to explain whether she did not have any technical input in the decision to bring in Cuban doctors since the issue falls under directly her minister insisted that the decision was suggested and brought on board by President Museveni.
Dr.Atwiine explained to parliament that a team from Uganda was later sent to consult the Cuban government over the feasibility of the deal.
According to her, the Minister for Health, Dr. Ruth Aceng, and the Chairman Health Service Commission, Solicitor General, Permanent Secretary Public Service and Chairman Medical council among other officials went to Cuba to be part of the consultations on the deal which has since turned contentious.
It is reported that each of the Cubans will be paid $1500 per month which is roughly Shs 5.4 million whereas the local doctors earn between one million shillings to 4.5 million depending on experience and specialization.
The legislators wondered why government could not raise half of the money it intends to give the Cubans to pay the local doctors which would motivate them greatly.
The MPs also wondered how government is to deal with local medical personnel who are supposed to assist the Cuban doctors yet they have been demoralized by continuing to be dismissive of their demands.
President Museveni on Tuesday justified the move to hire Cuban doctors by government saying the local doctors behaved badly and unprofessionally when they went on strike last year.
“They are selfish people, we cannot tolerate them, we fought for no pay for many years, when we got victory we were working for low pay, these soldiers have been fighting and working for either no pay or low pay, why do they never go on strike?” Museveni said during Labour Day celebrations in Ssembabule district on Tuesday.
“A doctor who goes on strike is not a doctor, he is an enemy of our people and we shall treat him as such. In fact I wanted to go back to the bush but I was restrained,” he added.
The furious Museveni lashed out at the doctors for trading in “nonsense talk” by trying to blackmail him.
The president added, “We are not against paying the others but if we don’t have enough money now, should we say that we pay no body? Or if we have some money whom do we start with, we chose science people because it is very difficult to retain them.”
Museveni’s comments had been sparked by National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) chairman general Usher Wilson Owere who had implored him to reconsider the Cuban Doctors issue before asking him to increase salaries for workers.