A news article which has appeared in the Zambian Watchdog under the title “Each Mobile Hospital to Gobble K450m per Trip on Allowances,” if its content is authentic, is one of the many good reasons why President Rupiah Banda’s decision to buy the controversial mobile hospitals will be recorded in our beloved country’s history as having been a gigantic policy blunder.
In the article, it is revealed that EACH mobile hospital, which consists of 7 trucks, will require more than 36 personnel per visit of 2 weeks in any given rural area, including medical doctors, nurses, clinicians, laboratory staff, surgeons, pharmacists, and support staff.
And it is estimated that K450 million will be spent in allowances on EACH of the 36 or so mobile hospital personnel over a period of 2 weeks, an amount which does not include expenses on fuel, oil, spare parts, maintenance of the 7 trucks, and so forth, especially after the two-year initial contract with the Chinese supplier of the mobile hospitals. Also, the amount does not include the monthly salaries of the 36 or so mobile hospital personnel expected to serve on EACH of the 9 mobile hospitals.
All these expenditures are in addition to the US$53 million secured from the EX-IM Bank of China to purchase the 9 mobile hospitals from the China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation, and which will need to be repaid over a period of 40 years.
Besides, it is irresponsible, wasteful and unwise for President Banda to buy mobile hospitals which are unacceptable for the following reasons:
(a) They are likely to last only a few years, given the poor state of roads in rural areas;
(b) There are a lot of rural communities today where there are no motorable roads;
(c) It will be very difficult to control the potential abuse of the mobile facilities and their contents;
(d) There will be a high potential for cohabitation and/or marriage breakdowns among nurses, doctors and other personnel who will be assigned to work away from their families;
(e) For a healthcare system that is already understaffed, the assignment of well over 324 personnel to the 9 mobile hospitals will lead to greater levels of stress among health personnel at existing hospitals and other permanent healthcare facilities in the country; and
(f) The mobile hospital personnel will inevitably be subjected to deplorable conditions, including the lack of proper lodging, bathing and toilet facilities, and will be disposed to deadly diseases like malaria.
As any genuine development economist would advise, loans, if there is really a pressing need to obtain them, should ideally be used to support the production and/or exportation of tradable goods. However, the US$53 million loan would still have made sense if it was secured to cater for the following:
(a) Provision of free healthcare for all Zambians;
(b) Construction of more permanent healthcare facilities nationwide;
(c) Provision of adequate medicines, medical equipment and ambulances;
(d) Financing of research designed to find cures for HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, and other deadly diseases; and/or
(e) Hiring, retention and training of health personnel.
The mobile hospitals are, by and large, ideal for a country that is at war. For Zambia, they are a luxury we can clearly not afford.
No doubt, the procurement of such temporary facilities is going to be the most conspicuous case of misapplication of resources by a Republican president thus far. It is a clear case of misplaced priorities! Sooner or later, the President and/or members of his inner circle will be crossing national borders for medical treatment or check-ups after wasting the US$53 million on mobile hospitals!
And President Banda and the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) want to continue to rule Zambia beyond 2011 after committing the country to such kinds of loans appropriated on worthless projects!
The US$53 million deal has all the characteristics of an attempt by President Banda to use the mobile hospitals as a campaign tool for the 2011 general elections, designed to woo voters in rural areas. He could win the Republican presidency, but he won’t be there to personally make a contribution to the re-payment of the loan!
And how does one explain the prominence of single-source procurement by the President during the short period he has been in office, if it is not to reap personal or political benefits from the deals involved? What is the use of having a procurement authority and technocrats in government ministries whose function is merely the acquisition of machinery, equipment and services that are prescribed by ministers or State House?
There is a need for Chinese government officials to guard against encouraging President Banda to borrow lavishly from their country’s state companies to finance projects which are conceived without consultation with Parliament and/or the Zambia Public Procurement Authority. They will do well not to participate in such furtive schemes if they are interested in cementing the existing cordial relations between their country and the people of Zambia.
Five more years of an MMD administration is, clearly, the last thing the majority of Zambians will ever wish for; they have suffered enough over the last 19 or so years of MMD reign.
We, therefore, need to put personal, ethnic, religious, and partisan interests aside and give the mandate to Comrade Michael Sata and the Patriotic Front (PF) to form government later this year and hope that they will work to break the socio-economic decay and backwardness which has haunted our beloved country over the last 19 or so years of the MMD administration.
In this regard, I wish to ask all those who teach our children, those who take care of the sick, those who extract and process copper and other minerals, those who provide transport services, those who create goods and services in the private sector, those who sell products in open markets and retail outlets, those who work in the civil service, those who serve orphaned and vulnerable children, and those who are currently unemployed to join and participate actively in this endeavor.
Finally, I wish to advise President Banda to re-assign the mobile hospitals to Zambia National Service (ZNS) camps in the 9 provinces after incorporating the functions of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) that is currently vested in the Office of the Vice-President into the functions of the ZNS. They (the mobile hospitals) could be appropriately used during natural and man-made disasters, and during outbreaks of infectious and deadly diseases like cholera.