For most of that time, President Jakaya Kikwete bid his time, watching the scenario unfold as the government machinery worked to resolve the crisis. Similarly, there were those who agreed with his executive style and those who thought the President was dragging action on the matter for rather too long. But, the President finally spoke and the country was to say the least, healed. The doctors went back to work as the President hoped that the country had seen the last of their strikes.
It was a diplomatic way of telling them to never again go on strike. Doctors, the President said, were not like any other professionals. Their decision to lay down tools leads directly to loss of life and in other countries they could be tried for manslaughter, he warned. The President also met the doctors’ representatives at State House and what he learnt from the meeting, he said, was that there was a lot of misunderstanding at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
One of the acid pinches was to call interns medical students as some officers at the ministry did, angering the interns who felt slighted while the officers scoffed their concern. In a nutshell, what we can say is that the strike, which paralysed the country for more than a month, was actually as a result of poor communication skills and disregarding the principles that govern labour relations in the public service.
As a result, the strike by doctors provided a whole mountain of lessons, which if properly taken into consideration, public service could return to its dignified experience and joy for all, the employees and the public who expect hitch less service from those mandated to hold the various offices on behalf of the people. It is not my intention to pass judgement but stories coming from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the allegations that were levelled against some of the officials, were if anything a very small pointer of the low level to which public service had declined.
Reading in between the lines, the behaviour was lamentable especially when coming from some of the most respected brains and personalities in society. There is no bigger human right than the right to life and doctors, we heard, breached it irreparably when they decide to lay down their tools and withhold their skills in total contrast to their training and professional oath.
However, I beg to hold that all persons who fail to perform their duties according to the ethics of their professions and the responsibilities they hold, are all killers as well. We shall be too late for instance, to guarantee the right to life by waiting to descend severely against striking doctors who abandon patients in critical condition but fail to give equally severe punishment to other lazy, careless, reckless and outright sellout public servants who endanger the lives, liberty and dignity of all Tanzanians by their omissions or commission.
Those include people who sign any contracts that do not properly safeguard the national interests and those who expose the nation and its people, in any way imaginable to ridicule and shame. I think after many years of reciting the corruption refrain, the vice no longer feels that much abominable in the minds of many people. It is unthinkable for instance, how only one person could almost have a hand or be linked to almost every major scandal in society.
And, ironically such a person appears to enjoy unmatched limelight in society either as a respectable businessman or public servant. Mwalimu Nyerere placed under detention without trial a Greek who bragged to have put the entire government in his pockets. Do we now have people who cannot be touched or be reached by the long arm of the law? I don’t think so but the social inequality gap, forget the chasm between the haves and have not, is more than threatening to tear our nation apart.
If we be very honest, the strike by doctors was triggered by the much complained about increase in the sitting allowance for MPs while doctors had their modest allowances for emergency duty slashed. Indeed, the same government cannot fail to pay some workers but manage to mobilize resources to pay others. To sum up it all, the doctors’ strike should save as the catalyst for new approach in the civil service, a commitment to serve the public based on the firm foundations of rules and regulations that provide clear channels for lodging complaints and appeals where an individual feels aggrieved. A
ll those things were there before but somehow we lost track of the strong traditions along the way and the result as we saw, is death. Finally, my humble advice is that we should let bygones be bygones. The doctors’ strike was basically an administrative issue that was badly handled and regretfully, turned into a political question. Activists, whether pro or against the strike should not be allowed to pig-back on an issue of national tragedy and bleeding just to satisfy their egos. The President has promised action and I am sure, he will heal the nation.