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Opinions of Saturday, 5 May 2007

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Dr. Frimpong Must Reconsider His Sack Order Now!

Get The Doctors Back To Work!!

A 1st of May 07 labor day news item read, “Doctors fired over strike action”. A diehard NPP supporter that I know, lauded the effort of Dr Frimpong Boateng, chief executive of Korle-Bu and condemned the action of these poor doctors on the basis of indiscipline. This true-blue NPP supporter said that these doctors keep striking over baseless claims and we are fed up with them. Therefore, it is time we dusted their crops! He claims they are a privileged bunch who behave like spoilt brats. Then he let in this bombshell!! He estimates that, it cost approximately 77,000 dollars to educate a single doctor in Ghana. Don’t ask me where he got his figures! I don’t know but I am surely going along for this jarring ride! I like it when people make arguments that weaken their own case! Don’t you? Going by his calculation, and in a HPIC country like Ghana, it did cost us $6.930,000 million to train 90 doctors. My question to him was this, if you are a businessman, will you write off a 6.9 million dollar investment because of demands for clarification on terms of service? Does it make economic and practical sense to dismiss these doctors? Especially, when the demand for doctors is on the rise world wide let alone Ghana? Who needs who? Who is zooming who? This must not be going on in a HPIC country called Ghana! Haba!

My friends, is Professor Boateng not a presidential candidate? Is this the kind of intolerant decision making that we are going to get from president Boateng? Here you have young doctors who have assumed office without conditions of work. Based on their claim, they’ve responsibly invited leadership to do its job by defining their terms of employment. The latter they did through writing, and personal appeals on numerous occasion and to all kinds of leadership quarters. After several failed attempts, the doctors decide to opt for civil disobedience. Instead of indicting the system that failed to work, Dr Boateng moves to punish those he considers nagging. Civil disobedience, Dr Frimpong, it a bonafide part of any vibrant democracy. As an aspiring presidential candidate, you ought to know and embrace this tool. Is this a reason to sack 90 doctors in resource starved Ghana? If Dr Frimpong had to pay 6.9 million dollars out of his pocket, will he sack these young doctors? I trust that he certainly will not embark upon the course of action that he opted for. The good doctor should be told that he is wrong and must publicly rescind his decision if he wants to be taken seriously on the issue of leadership. This, in my estimation, amounts to abuse of power. What is more striking is the lack of conflict resolutions systems in our work places. If there is a conflict resolution system, it surely does not work!

Folks, leadership is very situational. So, this same Dr Frimpong who is lauded to have made some useful changes at Korle-Bu, small as they may seem, is failing miserably on this issue. This situation is giving him the creeps. Since one’s true character erupts when discomfort comes knocking, should we use this as a guide to decoding Dr. Frimpong? A good leader ought to take the context into consideration and must evaluate his options and priorities critically, if not carefully. I am afraid that out of frustration, the good doctor hastily engaged in “act first-think later”. Sure it happens to the best of us and it is for this reason that I think he must take a step back and clean up his act. We need these doctors!

The least the NPP can do is to see these doctors as a necessary evil in their book. For the rest of Ghana, life depends on these doctors. Perhaps, Dr Frimpong ought to be reminded that most Ghanaians don’t have the luxury of traveling overseas for health care as our lording elite does. Given the grim shortage of doctors in Ghana, it makes no sense to sack doctors en bloc over rather frivolous and flimsy reasons. These doctors, it turns out, have a solid case. They have carried themselves very well. All they did was to nudge the system into action. What crime did they commit? Is it a crime to stand up for your rights in Kufour’s Ghana? Are we going to sack all the workers who are on strike now?

Doctor Frimpong, and indeed a lot of leaders in Ghana must be encouraged to acquire the skill of negotiation and the art of compromise. Yes, the situation in Ghana is difficult and can be vexing but we can’t afford certain luxuries at this time. The issues that these doctors are fighting for are all very negotiable. Indeed, the doctors don’t even know their terms of office so they have nothing to negotiate on. If Dr. Frimpong is hesitant to give them the conditions for fear of rejection, why not negotiate a fair deal with them? If what we see is sheer ineptitude or a wayward system, then get some change management experts in there to help facilitate the change that is needed. We cannot expect anyone to work without clearly defined work conditions. Certainly not doctors who have demand in their favor. Context man!

My friends, some of you may be fed up with the strikes of doctors and for that matter Ghanaian workers in general. And yes, in certain cases, Ghanaian workers, who do literally nothing, do not deserve what they ask or fight for. That is certainly not the case here. We ought to additionally keep in mind that, every strike by workers in Ghana, is a promise broken by our government. By government, I mean all governments not just the NPP. So long as strikes become the yardstick of government’s reneged promises, these doctors and indeed, all workers, should not be blamed for strikes. We must cultivate a government that is true to its words. This idea that government owns power, therefore, it can abuse its workers or take them for a ride, is unacceptable. Why do we expect people to work without appropriate pay? Even where appropriate pay is determined, it sometimes does not show up on time. I would rather we spend our millions on doctors than we do on some of these useless and self serving politicians. The best we can do is to reform the entire civil service instead of this piecemeal approach to solving these nagging and daunting labor rigmarole.

The real challenge that the NPP faces is not that of just reneging on its promises but its own profligacy. It is indeed difficult for workers and even sympathizers of the government to sympathize with a government that is known to splurge without a care. As professor Mills said, you can’t ask others to be patient when you live in opulence. How do you order 255 luxury cars for a few days celebration yet expect doctors to go without pay and other benefits? Doctors are without a doubt essential workers! How do you build a 41 million dollar presidential mansion with interest-bearing-borrowed-loan, when you are asking workers to tighten their belt? How do you organize Ghana or NPP@50 with such fervor and zeal but do not have the same energy when it comes to the very workers that hold the fort? Our government has given the impression that it has money to burn. So doesn’t it make sense that the workers will hold its feet to the fire? They want their fair share and who says they don’t deserve it? Did you know that Kufour’s per diem for one travel is more than a doctor’s pay for a month? Yet our president is constitutionally exempted from taxes! What kind of convoluted and disparate pay and benefit system do we nurse in Ghana? Such blatant inequalities and iniquities can only animate the raw rage of suffering and tiring workers! We need some parity in our pay and benefit system.

Even as we speak, the government is promising pay increases. Where will the money come from? The payroll and benefits of public workers alone consumes over half our budget. We don’t make or generate enough money to sustain our budget. We therefore beg and borrow to fill the gap. Now what do we do? How long can we continue like this? When did it begin and when will it end? When will this economic musical chair come to a screeching halt?

Dr Frimpong, you may not need the doctors but some of us do. These doctors should be working as we speak. I urge you to get a good dose of humility and reverse your own decision. Forward the conditions of service to these doctors and invite them to sit and talk to you. These folks are our own brothers and sisters. They seek what any reasonable human being will seek. They are not our enemies. Given the state of our medical system, we can’t afford to sack them even if they are wrong. My NPP friend reminded me that President Ronald Reagan did sack the air traffic controllers over a strike when he was in office. What he miserably forgets is that, America has that luxury. It has trained personnel who can fill in immediately. Do we in Ghana have the luxury of turning away our doctors? I mean 90 of them at ago? Who will fill in? We can’t even keep what we have! Context man! Context!

The best way forward is tolerance, dialogue and indeed innovative negotiation. The bulldozer approach will not work in our context and we know it. As the Ga folks wisely say, if you have cotton stuffed up your behind, you better not attempt hopping over a flaming inferno. We must dialogue and negotiate with them. It is my hope that this experience will serve as a loud call to all leaders and indeed our government. A trustworthy government is one that honors its word. A leader’s effectiveness comes from not what power he or she has, but how he or she wisely uses such. We must listen and learn regardless of what we already know. Let us come together with one voice and ask that these doctors be reinstated immediately. The voice of the people must be the voice of God. Please get the doctor back to work now for the sake of the suffering masses!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the double edge sword)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.