Feature Article of Friday, 21 April 2017

Columnist: Alhassan Hafiz

Bring back our Health Training Institutions Secretariat

In January this year, there was a certain letter signed by the Chief Director of Ministry of Health (MOH) making rounds on social media to the effect that the Health Training Institutions Secretariat (HTIS) had been dissolved. No clear reasons had been assigned for the dissolution and there was no indication about the future of that outfit. As a nurse educator who had come to appreciate the enormous importance of the secretariat in my work, I was seriously taken aback by this development. But I was still hopeful that maybe there were plans in the pipeline to restructure that outfit and make it operational again.

However, my hopes about any such any intentions were dealt a huge blow on Monday, 17th April, 2017, when the vice president, his Excellency, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia cited the dissolution of the HTIS as one of the achievements of this government within the first 100 days in office. On that day, Dr. Bawumia stated: “We have dissolved the Health Training Institutions [Secretariat]. It was mainly, practically a 419 institute which was engaged in collecting monies from prospective applicants, but we have dissolved it ……..” His statement was the strongest indication yet, that the secretariat had been dissolved on account of fraud. It was also the strongest indication that they had no plans of re-structuring the secretariat to improve its efficiency and do away with the rot, as some of us had hoped.

What baffles me most about this unfortunate development in my field of work is that, for a government that prides itself on the rule of law and a fearless fight against corruption, not even a single person from this secretariat, the one that has been accused of fraud, has been arrested or prosecuted. Nor have we been told the nature of the fraud that they committed. It makes me wonder whether this was just a case of giving the dog a bad name so we could hang it, or it is just another episode of playing political football with nursing in this country.

Come to think of it, even if this fraud allegations against the secretariat are true, this would not be the first time that corruption or fraud has been uncovered in a public institution. And yet those institutions were never dissolved. When massive corruption was uncovered at the National Service Secretariat a couple of years ago, the culprits were identified and dealt with. And new people were appointed to man the affairs of the secretariat. It was never dissolved. Similarly, when Manasseh uncovered evidence of corruption at GYEEDA and SADA, the culprits were shown the exit and some arrests and prosecutions were even made in the matter. New Heads were then appointed to take over management of these institutions. It was also not dissolved. Even the police service, an institution that is supposed to fight corruption, has once upon a time been hit by allegations of corruption in their recruitment process. But once again, the matter was investigated, a culprit was identified and sanctioned, and the service has continued to operate. Even the “almighty” judiciary in Ghana has been rocked by a corruption scandal. Beyond the investigations and various sanctions meted out to the identified culprits, did anyone dare talk about dissolving the judicial service?

So why does it have to be a different story for the HTIS? Is it because the people who would be directly affected by this decision, mainly nurses and nursing students, would as usual suffer in silence? Is it because they have for a long time allowed politicians to play “chaskele” with their profession? Whatever the case may be, I want to believe that this is an era where nurses are awaking, arising, and understanding that the longer we keep quiet and inactive on matters that affect us, the deeper we would sink into oblivion. So for whatever it is worth, my voice would be heard on this matter.

For those who may not be aware, the HTIS was established in 2015 to coordinate all activities of the Health Training Institutions in the country. This had become necessary because of the ever increasing number of Nursing Training Schools in the country as well as the expanded human resource in these schools. Before its establishment, activities of the training schools used to be managed by a Training Unit under the Human Resource for Health Directorate at the MOH. This unit was probably sufficient at a time when we had only about 25 training schools in the country. However, as at 2015, there were about 85 Health Training Institutions in the country with a total student population of about 33,000 and an annual intake of about 14,000 students. The number of health tutors alone had gone up to about 1,200, and there are other non-teaching staff in these schools.

With these exponential increments in the numbers, the capacity of the old training unit seemed to have been overwhelmed leading too many lapses in the area of performance management, human resource planning, recruitment, promotions, etc. In addition, the training schools were not represented at Inter-agency Leadership Committee Meetings made up of heads of Agencies. Therefore issues concerning the training institutions could not be adequately discussed during discussion of reports in respect of agencies under the Ministry. In respect of all these, a decision was made to establish a separate entity to effectively manage the Health Training Institutions. And that was how the HTIS came into being.

Since its establishment, many health tutors like myself would confess that there has been a significant improvement in the administration of the Health Training Institutions, particularly with regards to the human resource. Issues of appointments, promotions, study leaves, etc. were now very well coordinated. For the first time, there was a clearly defined office where tutors could go to get their issues addressed. There were separate departments for nursing, midwifery and allied health issues. So there was something for everyone.

Then somewhere along the line, the secretariat started doing things that some of us were genuinely uncomfortable with. For instance the continuous opening of new Nursing Training Schools, admission of large number of students across all schools, mass transfer of tutors that appeared to have a punitive motive behind it, etc. In fact, at some point many of us felt that the secretariat was in bed with our managers, the principals and all decisions concerning the schools were taken in their favor. So make no mistake, we had our reservations about the secretariat. Then we started hearing rumors about some serious wrong doings going on at the secretariat. But these were never confirmed or verified. Then a new government takes over and the next thing we know, the secretariat is dissolved. Why? Because they were involved in 419 deals. That’s from no less a person than the vice president of our republic. And the government even goes ahead to celebrate this dissolution as one of their achievements within the first 100 days in office. Like seriously? Surprisingly, we are not told what these 419 dealings were, nor do we see anybody being arrested for fraud.

Whatever the case maybe, if the allegations of fraud against the secretariat are actually true, then by all means throw out the bath water. But please make sure you don’t add the baby. The object of the secretariat, its mission, and strategic role in the lives of health tutors and trainees is still relevant today, and would remain relevant for a long time. Therefore, if it was found to be deviating from its original mandate through the behavior of some few individuals, the proper thing to do, in my humble opinion was to get those individuals out of the way and appoint new people to properly re-position the secretariat on the right course, but not to completely dissolve it. The dissolution of the secretariat would take back the progress of nursing education and health tutors several years. As we speak now, the promotions of 100s of tutors that were supposed to have been completed by now are still in limbo because the secretariat is no longer functional. I fear this may just be the first step in our journey back into the dark days of the so-called training unit.

So my call is simple, just as other public institutions in the past that have been fingered for corruption and other forms of wrong doing were restructured rather than been dissolved, the HTIS also deserves a second chance to function again. I therefore wish to appeal to the president and his vice, the Minister of health, as well as all other stakeholders to, as a matter of urgency, restructure the HTIS and restore it back to normal functioning.

However, while appealing to the government, I wish to appeal more to my colleague nurse educators and other health tutors to join in this campaign to bring back our secretariat. As an individual, I may make a difference, but together we would make a bigger difference. I therefore wish to implore each and every one of us to help in pushing this message until it gets to the powers that be. Write your own article if you may, share this particular one if you please, call someone in government if you can, call a radio station, call a TV station, do whatever else you can, just as long as you are not doing nothing! If we knock long enough, somebody would open. We have suffered in silence for far too long. We have grumbled in our offices enough. Now is the time to act.

We must begin to rise up against the things that threaten the progress of our profession. If we fail to reverse this unfortunate dissolution of the secretariat, you can be sure that it would become a political gimmick.

Opposition parties would use it as a campaign tool and when they win power, they may bring it back, only for it to be tossed aside again by a new government, and it would become a vicious cycle. And where would that leave the profession? Well your guess is as good as mine. If we don’t want the worse to happen, then now is the time for us to shout with one very loud united voice that the government must bring back our secretariat.

God bless our home land Ghana; and make our profession great and strong. Thank you.

Alhassan Hafiz

Senior Nursing Tutor, NMTC – Kpembe