Govt: we won’t print money to pay striking doctors
The Federal Government yesterday said it will not print money to pay the striking doctors.
The government took the position at the resumed stakeholders’ meeting on the doctors’ strike, organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Health, to resolve the crisis.
But the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), whose members are on the indefinite action, said unless it is paid, the strike would continue.
Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the Federal Government had no money to pay the striking doctors, adding that the funds to meet the doctors’ demands were not captured in this year’s budget.
She said: “The easiest thing to say is: go and print money. But you know the implication. I won’t mention countries that are near us. Some of them are in deep trouble today because of issues like this.”
The minister, who was represented by the Director-General in the Budget Office, Bright Okogu, said: “This competitive wage demand for increase is not sustainable and is not in the best interest of the nation. The wage bill has risen from N857 billion in 2009 to N 1.8 trillion in 2014.”
The minister noted that acceding to the demands of the doctors would lead to an avalanche of requests from pharmacists, nurses and other categories of health workers.
She urged the Ministry of Health to have “a common sectoral approach to this issue”.
Okonjo-Iweala said: “I recognise the 22-year wait. This government is trying to address it. They (doctors) should trust the government for its intention to do something for them.”
But the NMA said the error in salaries had been on for 22 years, adding that it magnanimously waived N257.03 billion of the money.
The union insisted on at least six-month payment or half of the N13 billion arrears it is demanding.
It said the arrears included the professional fees of non-doctors.
NMA’s First Vice-President, Dr. Titus Ibekwe, who represented the President, Dr Kayode Obembe, said the association would only return to work after getting payment alerts.
He said the issues of Relativity and Skipping had not been addressed.
The NMA president said the points of contention were in two categories: clinical governance and welfare
Obembe said: “We can’t promise to call off (the strike) unless we have a minimal thing we can return to our members with.”
Labour and Productivity Minister Emeka Wogu and the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, begged the NMA to call off the strike in the interest of suffering Nigerians.
“I appeal to NMA to suspend the strike, particularly on the side of human sympathy. I appeal to them to consider the reality of the day and suspend the strike,” Nwogu said.
A member of the committee, Babatunde Adejare, suggested funding the doctors’ demands from the Service Wide Votes, but the Director- General in the Budget Office opposed the suggestion.
House Committee Chairman Ndudi Elemelu suggested that the Federal Government’s wage bills might be reduced, if teaching hospitals were privatised.
“If the cost of servicing is much, should we privatize the hospitals? He asked.
Members of the NMA were in support of the suggestion.
But the DG Budget Office, on a personal note opposed the suggestion saying there is need for government presence in areas like Health and Education. “You need to have Government presence in such sectors because its one of the cardinal things that the Government should do.”
Elemelu further appealed to the NMA. “We are calling on the doctors to suspend its strike bearing in mind the fact that the government has agreed to pay two months arrears by August.
“We will persuade the government to include in the 2015 budget the balance. And we are calling on the Executive to ensure that the balance is put in the 2015 budget.
The NMA eventually capitulated with the caveat that the two months areas be paid within 14 days and the balance be paid in subsequent months.
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