THE Health Professions Authority has dismissed corruption allegations levelled against the Nurses Council of Zimbabwe (NCZ) board led by Dr Lillian Dodzo as baseless after finding the insinuations devoid of evidence.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Some of the reported allegations include the council being fleeced of thousands of dollars by board members, ditching digitization projects, abuse of funds, among other issues. The Health Professions Authority (HPA) of Zimbabwe is a health professions regulatory body which was established following the repealing of the Medical, Dental and Allied Professions Act (Chapter 27:08) and the disbandment of the Health Professions Council (HPC) on 30 June 2001. The Health Professions Authority plays three major important roles of acting as the umbrella body for the seven health profession councils(including NCZ), acting as an appealing body for any dispute between health practitioners and their councils, and protection of public interest.
Following the report the Authority was to make an enquiry on the issues raised in terms of Section 5 (1) (e) and Section 25 (1) ( c ) (iii) of the Health Professions Act.
In a report of findings from the investigations gleaned by HealthTimes, the HPA secretary general Mr Shepherd Humure said all the allegations were unproven and flimsy.
“The Secretary General did not find evidence in all the issues that were raised…,” he said.
On the matter that Nurses Council of Zimbabwe could have been prejudiced of thousands of dollars in sitting allowances by board members who have been in office for the past four years, Mr Humure found no substantive evidence to nail them.
“The Secretary General perused all the documentations pertaining to the payment of board fees and sitting allowances, including the governing policies relating to them.The allowances were included in the budget and approved by the Minister and the 20 % withholding tax was being deducted.
Secretary General found that the board fees and sitting allowances payments were pegged at acceptable levels, were all in order and were in line with standing Council policy,” he said.
Members were accused of fleecing the council thousands of dollars in foreign travel allowances in the past four years.
“Policy document pertaining to subsistence and travel allowances was made available to the Secretary General. The Secretary General tracked the actual payments of foreign travel allowances paid to board members to see if they were in line with standing Council policy.
“Findings by Secretary General were that the payments were in line with the standing Council policy and the stipulated amounts in the policy were reasonable and in line with benchmarked trends,” the HPA secretary general noted.
Mr Humure said he firstly checked the documentation and payment papers relating to the purchasing of the chair and went on to physically have a look of the chair in question purportedly to have costed US$2 600.
“Findings were that the chair was bought in year 2018 at a price of $950.00 RTGS. On physically examining the chair, Secretary General found that it was an average chair found in similar offices. The price of USS$2 600.00 quoted in the press was not proven,” he said.
On the abuse of funds crippling the Council into stalling important projects to the extent of nurses sleeping at their offices awaiting for practising certificates the secretary General said he had to initially understand the projects which Nurses Council of Zimbabwe had planned to undertake and the current status of those projects.
Some of the projects include replacement of vehicles, refurbishing the front office and furnishing the new building.
“Suppliers required the payment to be made in foreign currency and when an application for foreign currency was made to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), it was turned down as vehicles were not considered as priority items.
“Refurbishment of front office was affected by availability of foreign currency to purchase the required materials.
“Furnishing of the new building was done with the purchasing of the required furniture that included the boardroom furniture.
“Secretary General did not find projects that were stalled as a result of lack of funds. Projects affected were those that required foreign currency,” he said.
With the Council said to be using computers which an audit in 2017 valued at a paltry of US$1 per unit, a review of their computers by both internal and external auditors in 2016 and 2017 revealed that their machines were outdated and of no market value and they were ordered to purchase new computers. The Council was reportedly said to do so arguing that there are no funds.
In his investigations, Mr Humure heard the Council received donated computers in 2010 .
“The board hired a consultant to assess the functionality of these donated computers and recommended an IT project of bigger and updated software. As a result, the Council embarked on a gradual replacement programme and in year 2019 had taken delivery of 8 HP Pro 400 G5 Microtower desktop intel core i.7 computers, 2 laptops and a SAMSUNG multi-functional printer,” he said.
He had to move around all the Council offices and had a physical sight of these latest version computers which had just been delivered.
“Findings were that the Council had a gradual computer replacement programme per recommendation from the consultant. This programme was being implemented,” said Mr Humure.
Mr Humure could also not find evidence attached to the allegation of NCZ board allocating US$2 000 each in a Ghana trip.
“Findings were that the payments made to board members as travel and subsistence allowances were in line with the Council’s policy. The amounts were properly itemised to give a breakdown of the individual items involved to the total amount paid and was clearly itemised as subsistence, accommodation with breakfast, lunch, dinner and conference registration fee.
“Secretary General did not find “shopping allowances” or any other allowances on top of the basic travel allowance to sustain a human being in a foreign country. Also Secretary General found the travel allowances to be quite reasonable and in line with benchmarked practices,” he said.
Regarding the number of board meetings being 25 instead of four getting daily allowances of $300 and 150 litresof fuel per head, Mr Humure indicated that as stipulated by statute, the number of meetings should be 28.
“Secretary General examined the meeting register and found that the council had 7 statutory committees including full council meeting. Multiplying 7 committees by 4 meetings each per year would give a total of 28 meetings per year in terms of statute.
“Findings were that the figure of 25 meetings cited in the press article was actually less than the required minimum of 28 statutory meetings per year. However, Secretary General noted that the meetings register had a number of ad-hoc meetings that were being held for the business which could be easily handled by management and then report to the board for policy decision. In year 2018 there were 11 recorded such ad-hoc meetings,” he said.
He said, “Council policy was not to pay sitting allowances immediately after each meeting. Payments were made periodically, such as quarterly, as a total that encompassed a number of meetings during that period. This led to misunderstanding that $300.00 and 150 litres of fuel were paid per sitting. Whereas these could be quarterly figures involving a number of meetings in that quarter.
“Secretary General found that all the sitting allowances and fuel paid to board members were in order per standing policy, as explained above.”
Mr Humure said he went into discussion with management of Nurses Council to obtain an updated picture on the digitisation of systems and decentralisation of Council operations. He also physically examined documentation to support the work that was in progress.
About the Online registration project, he was told of a teamsent to Kenya for look and learn visit.
“HITRAC was contracted to develop and implement this system. The system encompassed on-line payment, student indexing and entangled website to improve communication with stakeholders. On-line registration was expected to start working by end of May 2019,” he revealed.
Onto the decentralisation project, Mr Humure learnt it started in 2014 covering 5 centres, namely Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare.
“In year 2019, 3 additional centres were incorporated, namely Kadoma, Murehwa and Mvurwi to bring the total number of centres to 8. The decentralisation project involved teams moving around during the peak months of January to March to do everything that included registration and renewal of practising certificates. This eliminated the decongestion at the Council office,” he said adding, “As a result, Secretary General did not find evidence of shelving of these two projects.”