Wrangling over who between the national and county governments should hire health workers threatens to puncture the fight against the coronavirus.
On Friday, the chairman of the Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya asked the Health Cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe and the Public Service Commission (PSC) chairman Stephen Kirogo to immediately call off the exercise and allow counties do it.
“County governments note with utmost concern that the Public Service Commission is advertising positions on behalf of the county governments. Kindly note that this will not work since the function of hiring staff is a preserve of the county public service boards,” Mr Oparanya wrote.
The governor accused the national government of going back on an agreement to allow counties recruit the staff.
“It is important to note that under Schedule Four of the constitution, health is a devolved function and recruitment of such staff can only be undertaken by the county public service boards,” he said.
PSC last week advertised for 5,500 positions for contractual health workers to stem the spread of Covid-19 that has already battered the global economy with countries like Kenya struggling to keep afloat.
On Saturday, Mr Oparanya, who is also the Kakamega governor, vowed not to allow the ministry to get away with “such an assault on the constitution”.
“It will not happen under my watch as the chairman of the Council of Governors. It has to stop forthwith,” he told the Nation.
The letter was copied to all governors and chairman of Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Mr Karega Mutahi.
“The PSC in conjunction with the Ministry of Health is pleased to announce to the general public the recruitment of the following healthcare workers drawn from nine (9) cadres of health personnel on three (3) years contract based on identified needs in the two levels of government,” PSC had announced on its website.
The call targeted clinical officers, nurses, pharmaceutical technologists, medical laboratory technologists, community health workers, public health officers and radiographers.
Public Service CS Margaret Kobia however sought to downplay the conflict saying the intention was noble.
“This is not the time to fight. Counties were part of this initiative from the start and actually, the figures were arrived at based on data provided by them on areas of need. We need an understanding on this, since even if we recruit, and this is primarily informed by the urgency, we would still channel the same to counties,” she said.
She said the move by PSC is meant to hasten the process. She added after the online applications are received, they will then be forwarded to each county public service board to hire as per their needs.
“That was my understanding but if there is an issue both levels of government will agree on the approach as we have no much time if we are to strengthen health system for the whole country. Some counties like Kirinyaga do not have a functioning county public service boards therefore a common approach would help,” the minister said.
Prof Kobia further revealed that some retired health workers had been recalled to help stamp out the virus.
The move by the national government may attract legal action, at the expense of fighting the virus, given that health is a devolved function that falls under the ambit of the county governments.
On Thursday, Mr Kagwe said counties had submitted their requirements to the national government and the positions have been advertised.
He said that Level 4 to Level 6 hospitals are also recruiting at least 1,000 health officers, meaning there will be an additional 6,000 medical workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Kagwe’s announcement was in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that Sh1 billion from the Universal Health Coverage kitty be appropriated towards the recruitment of additional health workers to support in the management of Covid-19. At the same time, the doctors are unhappy with the PSC advert that left them out.
“We have reservations with the advert because it has excluded doctors. There are many jobless doctors and we consider this as discrimination,” the doctors said yesterday at a media briefing in Nairobi.
The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union noted that it has 1,000 unemployed professionals in its database across the three cadres of pharmacists, dentists and medical doctors who the government has left them out.
“This is not the time for conflict between employees and employers. Let’s pull together and support each other in the war against coronavirus. This discrimination is not good because we need all soldiers in the field,” KMPDU chairman Samuel Oroko said, adding that the government must also recruit doctors.