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A hasty divorce



THE decision by the government of Lesotho to terminate a contract to run and manage the Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital has left scores of workers stranded. Work at the hospital, the biggest referral hospital in Lesotho, has ground to a standstill after Netcare which was managing the hospital abruptly packed its bags, a few weeks before the contract ended on August 31, 2021. The four filter clinics which were also under Netcare have suffered a similar fate leaving vulnerable Basotho without access to adequate healthcare services. There is now a lot of uncertainty at the hospital and at its filter clinics with workers not sure if they will be absorbed under the new administration that will take over come September 1. Netcare’s decision to abruptly pack its bags has seriously exposed deep flaws in the government’s thought-processes and how it has managed the acrimonious divorce. The government should have known and anticipated that a divorce of this nature was likely to trigger a massive backlash from an aggrieved Netcare. It should have prepared fully for that since they are the ones who initiated the process. It would however seem that each day that passes is exposing not only the hastiness of that decision but its waywardness. It would appear that even though it initiated the process, the government had not fully thought-through the process. The result is that the government appears to have been caught flat-footed and is now reeling after Netcare packed its bags, throwing the hospital into pandemonium and a new phase of uncertainty. It is basic knowledge in project management that you do not dump a contractor without a Plan B or C. One should plan all the way, including for worst case scenarios. It would appear that the government neither had a plan B nor C. The sad result is the chaos that we are now seeing at the hospital that is probably now costing lives. Workers are no longer sure if they will be absorbed by the new hospital management. Such uncertainty is not healthy for workers. But there is nothing new about the government’s bungling. We have seen similar chaotic separations at other infrastructure projects. However, the human cost at Queen Mamohato is what worries us. In the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic, the result could be dire. We are aware that at one point the government was planning to set up a specific ward to handle Covid patients. The last time we battled a serious Covid outbreak in January, Lesotho ran out of basic supplies such as oxygen. It is our hope that this acrimonious divorce at Tsepong has not seriously impacted our level of preparedness in what should be the biggest and most important fight facing this nation – the battle against Covid. If the divorce has disrupted our battle against Covid, then the consequences are likely to be dire in the next few weeks, with bodies beginning to pile again in the morgues. Yet while this whole drama has been playing out, Netcare appears to have the upper hand, with the government playing catch-up. Health Minister Semano Sekatle must now step up and show leadership. What the workers need is a word of reassurance that their jobs will be safe. Basotho need to be told that the change will be seamless come September 1. If that is not done, the whole venture will come across as one that was badly planned. Basotho want to access top-notch services at the hospital without battling to seek alternative treatment in South Africa. What the people want are better services, never mind who is in charge.

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