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Opinions of Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Columnist: Ibrahim, Faisal

NHIS To Collapse?

Mr. Kingsley Bobie was the General Secretary of the National Health Insurance Workers Union. He doubled as the Akuapim South District National Health Insurance Scheme [NHIS] public relations officer. This man has been dismissed by the authorities of the NHIS. The reason of his sack was due to concerns he articulated on-behalf of his colleagues in his capacity as the General Secretary. I will delve into the concerns the union expressed but before I do that, I will like to state that it is improper for Mr. Bobie to have been dismissed by the National Health Insurance Authority[NHIA] headed by Mr. Sylvester Mensah, who rented a plush bungalow just weeks after he was appointed as the acting CEO. Mr. Mensah, popularly known as “Sly”, paid One Billion, Twenty-Two Million, Four Hundred Thousand Cedis [1,022,400,000.00] or $ 72,000.00 for only 2 years rent. Ghanaians were outraged by this reckless expenditure especially when it was during the era the NDC told the world Ghana was “broke” and that the former government was “profligate” in its activities. It was an era of “austerity measures” according to our president so people wondered how “austere” this spending was. We all know $ 72,000.00 could have bought a house for the acting NHIA boss but the Deputy Corporate Affairs Manager of the Authority, Mr. Eric Ametor Quame, tells us “looking at where most CEOs stayed, $72,000 cannot be used to acquire a house for a CEO.” These were preachers of modesty and anti-profligacy when they were in opposition.
So, the Health Insurance Workers Union agreed that a statement be delivered by Mr. Bobie, the General Secretary of the Union to deliver at a Union of Industry, Commerce and Finance Workers (UNICOF) conference in Kumasi. The relevant portions of his statement touched on the over politicization of the scheme which they believed was crippling this social intervention introduced by the previous government. He said among other things that “the [seizure] of the offices of health Insurance by some people who call themselves foot soldiers. They always succeed and I will attest to the fact that whatever they do is what the Health Insurance Authority does.
Elaborating further on this canker which is crippling the scheme, he added that “when they [foot soldiers] [want to] sack Mr. A from this scheme they will be able to do that. I think health insurance, it is about time we realize that it is a socially oriented social governmental institution, not partisan institution where a political party will just say let me dominate the system.”

To further confirm that, Mr. Bobie spoke in the capacity as the general secretary and was indeed speaking on behalf of his colleagues, he concluded that “What WE are saying is that they should not make the Health Insurance a partisan platform it should be a corporate platform based on competence,"
I think Mr. Kingsley Bobie and the union deserve the support of every Ghanaian for being bold to speak out against an evil that is crippling the NHIS. Rather he is being persecuted because, what he said does not sound palatable to the ears of Mr. Mensah and his friends.
Since the NDC party took over power, there has been one seizure of one public office or the other. And the NHIS offices have not been different. We have seen these powerful gangsters even declare the president’s representatives in districts and municipalities ‘wanted, dead or alive!”. How much more people employed by the NHIS. In fact, most recent seizures by these powerfully lawless foot soldiers have targeted the NHIS offices. As late as March, 2010, NDC foot soldiers in Zabzugu Constituency seized the NHIS office in the area. Their reason for the seizure was that they “suspect” the manager is not a member of the ruling NDC. These acts of gangsterism go on with impunity, but our ‘father for all” is with us. People say, “he sees no evil and hears no evil”. What will not be surprising is that, the scheme manager’s service will be terminated. Sometimes one wonders if these lawless agitations are not masterminded.
So the dangers alerted by the Union and ably articulated by Mr. Bobie is nothing but the truth. These workers have a lot to lose if the NHIS is to break down eventually. Their source of livelihood largely depends on the efficient management and sustainability of the scheme. The workers have a high stake in the scheme, hence if they raise red flags over developments they find destructive, they must be rewarded and not persecuted as is being done by Mr. Mensah and his friends.
I suspect the authorities are using Mr. Bobie as a scapegoat to cow other workers of the scheme into submission. So that, tomorrow when something is going the wrong way, people will feel intimidated not to speak against it. This tactics to intimidate people from expressing genuine concerns about the scheme will only go a long way to harm the scheme.The ordinary Ghanaian will be the ultimate loser. This scheme is helping many Ghanaians. My sister benefited from this scheme in 2008.She was operated on at Labadi General Hospital in 2008, the operation costed over 3 million cedis, but we did not pay a pesewa for because of this scheme. Ghanaians including my sister are grateful this scheme was initiated and implemented. The NHIS has made health services accessible to everybody.
Intimidating people from raising genuine concerns is bad governance. Mr. Ametor Quame, the Deputy Corporate Affairs Manager, this time around is telling us the comments made by Mr. Bobie were “embarrassing’ to the scheme and he deserves the boot. It is very surprising this is the best explanation the authorities could tell Ghanaians. When a journalist reminded Mr. Quame that, Mr. Bobie spoke on behalf of the union and not in his personal capacity, Mr. Quame rejected that explanation.
With all these bad corporate governance going on in the scheme, I ask, will this government ever fulfill the one time premium they promised us? I recall a promise by Mr. Mensah in July that the one-time premium will start January, 2011. He said “the one-time premium payment under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) becomes operational from January next year in fulfillment of one of the key pledges of the government “. He made this promise at launch of the sixth edition of the Standard Treatment Guidelines (STGs) and Essential Medicine List.
There are no indications this promise will be fulfilled. The Deputy Minister of Health, Hon. Rojo Mettle Nunoo, months back told parliament, implementing the one-time premium will be difficult. Quickly his boss, Hon. Benjamin Kunbour who was not in the country then, called into media houses “clarify” the issue, saying his deputy’s statement should be disregarded. It was an interesting drama between the substantive minister and his deputy.
Just last month, November,2010, Dr. Kunbuor, speaking during his Ministry’s turn at the ‘Meet the Press’ series stated that he was forced to say the one time premium would work because he is a minister and since it was a government policy he must support it. In effect, it was a tacit indication that though the one time premium is not possible, he can not say so because he is part of government. He added that “I have raised both hands and legs to show you that it would work and I am saying this because they are playing a drum and I am only dancing to it; when they stop playing the drum and I am still dancing, someone should tap me and say they have stopped playing the drum.” The outright deceit is appalling. Readers, kindly make your own judgment from this quote above.
Again, I ask, will the NHIS survive under this government? The CEO of the scheme has come out clearly that, if extra funding is not provided, the scheme will be in ‘danger”. He proposed that the NHIS levy be increased from its current 2.5 to 3.5 but that proposal was rejected. I heard him on Radio Gold before the budget was presented; explaining the urgent need for this amendment to push through if the scheme must be sustained. The budget was read and nothing was said about the increment in the NHIS levy. Which means until government provides another sustainable way of funding this scheme; we can only pray this scheme does not collapse. But, I remember our Vice President, John Dramani Mahama promised recently that the oil money was to be used to fund the scheme. I thought it was a very good idea. Indeed, I think using the oil money to fund the NHIS is more prudent than building luxurious housing units which are not even within the reach of the middle-income earner, how much more the masses. Having an improved and efficient NHIS benefits everybody including the masses and the rich. Unfortunately, the NDC government prefers expensive Korean housing units for a few to an improved NHIS for us all.

We must pray the NHIS does not also end up like the National Identification Exercise and the Bui Dam Project, which have stalled for reasons the NDC government can answer.
God save us!


The author is an Associate Member of the Association of Business Executives, UK. He is also a blogger on facebook (