President Uhuru Kenyatta holds the key to resolving a leadership crisis in the Ministry of Health that has emerged as one of the major obstacles to ending the two-month doctors’ strike, the Senate Health committee said yesterday.
“This committee has noted that there is a problem and the President must sort out this mess. You (Mr Kenyatta) either sort out that problem or the country will sort it out for you,” Wilfred Machage, who chairs the committee, said.
The committee made the statement after it was treated to conflicting accounts of the ministry’s handling of negotiations with the striking doctors from Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Cleopa Mailu and his principal secretary, Nicholas Muraguri.
Dr Muraguri had contradicted the Dr Mailu’s Tuesday revelation that the PS had ignored his directive that he (Muraguri) leads the team that was to negotiate with the doctors. Dr Muraguri said he had consulted the minister before making changes to the team of four that was to negotiate with the doctors ahead of their imprisonment on Monday.
Yesterday, the jailed doctors got relief after the Court of Appeal ordered their release from prison to facilitate a negotiated end to the strike.
The Appeals court directed that officials from the Law Society of Kenya and the Kenya Commission on Human Rights lead the talks aimed at ending the stalemate that enters its 74th day this morning.
Dr Mailu, who had on Tuesday accused Dr Muraguri of insubordination, rejected the PS’ claim that the two had agreed to replace him with the secretary of administration, Francis Musyimi, as the head of the ministry’s negotiating team. “While I accept his apology to this committee, I want to put it on record that at no time did we discuss the change of names as the PS has indicated,” Dr Mailu said.
“We have to move forward because we have mandates given to us through appointment letters from respective authorities. The import of that in my view and from where I stand doesn’t affect how I steer the ministry. Every officer in the ministry has his space,” Dr Mailu told the committee.
The Senate had summoned the two to brief it on the progress made in securing the release of seven Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KPMDU) officials, who were handed a one-month prison sentence for contempt of court.
Justice Helen Wasilwa of the Employment and Labour Relations Court sent the doctors to jail for failing to comply with a court order to call off the strike.
A three-judge Bench comprising Justices Jamila Mohamed, Wanjiru Karanja and Hannah Okwengu, however, quashed the sentence yesterday following an appeal by parties to the dispute.
Yesterday, the Senate committee asked Dr Muraguri to explain why he had disregarded orders from the minister directing him to lead the team of ministry officials to the talks expected to resume this morning.
“The minister wrote a memo that appointed you to head negotiations as ordered by the court. What happened to this because you never attended any meeting, but instead changed the memo and gave out your own nominees?” Dr Machage asked.
Dr Muraguri was forced to eat humble pie and apologise for what he described as “perceived infighting within the ministry.”
“In this incidence, there was direction that I lead the ministry team. We discussed with the CS on how to optimise the team and we agreed. But from what came out of the committee yesterday (Tuesday), the communication was misconstrued to mean there was misunderstanding. I apologise,” Dr Muraguri said.
Senator Zipporah Kittony demanded to know what Dr Muraguri was apologising for, having rejected directives from Dr Mailu to lead the talks. “Are you assuring us that you are going to take the lead and bring this suffering to an end given that alot of fingers are being directed at you?,” Mrs Kittony asked.
Dr Muraguri said negotiations with doctors have been going on since October last year under the leadership of the CS.
“We have advanced the negotiations between ourselves, the doctors’ union, Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), the Council of Governors (CoG), the Treasury and the Public Service Commission,” he said.
He denied claims that he has been working in cahoots with a section of doctors to frustrate the talks and pledged to take the lead going forward.
“I am ready. I will take the lead and I will take charge. I have been on it since October. I will take lead once again. It is not true that I have sabotaged the talks. That is not true because it is not in my interest, ministry or Kenyans to prolong the negotiations,” Dr Muraguri said.