Health Minister expresses frustration over the country’s bad system


By Yankuba Jallow

The Minister of Health on Saturday told members of the National Assembly that the Gambia has a very bad system which requires changes.

Dr. Ahmed Lamin Samateh was speaking before lawmakers on Saturday afternoon on the situation of COVID-19 in the country and why the payment of allowances to the frontline workers was not made on time.

He said instead of dealing with the response to COVID-19, strategizing, developing the policies, people were focussed on how to amass money through the promised allowances.

He said there were people who were bent on mismanaging the fund meant to fight COVID-19 as they did with the Ebola fund.

“I think we inherited a bad system. That is the bottom line. The same old people are there. They got used to the same bad system. We talk about Ebola, unfortunately, Ebola funds were wasted in this country and that is what they want to do with this and we say no.”

“That is why some of them are up and against. The Ebola funds were wasted here. What that would have done, today, our health system wouldn’t have been like this. There were equipment which were said to have been procured which never got to this country. Nobody sees them. Allowances were put together – then allowances were paid as impress and I was told they put it in bags and they went and paid selected people and the rest only God and they know where the rest went to. Some people were left as a response team for three months and they never get a dime paid to them. They are still here.”

He said the same people are there and now they don’t have the access, they are sabotaging the system.

“To them, things won’t work. To them, things will fail. This is the frustration I am facing as a health minister.”

He said these are the same people who will go to the media to fabricate lies against the Government.

“We have a bad system where middle-level people who have been spending money in the air building homes – three, four, five-storey buildings in town. They are in the ministry,”

“We have people who go to border points because they have people they stationed there, to be collecting little things from them every weekend.”

He said when these people were removed, they became very angry and they take him as someone who came to destroy their way of life.

“They are up with arms, doing every kind of havoc and undermining us because they have grievances,” he said.

He told lawmakers one of the former cabinet ministers (whose name was not mentioned) called one of their programme managers to give him fuel coupons.

He said when he asked them to provide him with the list of those who are supposed to be given the allowances, “the problem started, especially, when the five hundred million dalasis was mentioned. That was when our problem as a health ministry started.”

He added: “Unfortunately, people started forgetting about COVID 19, all they talk about is money, money, money. That is why I said our work is very difficult.”

He said there is a great number of health workers who are sacrificing their lives for the country, but there are a few bad elements too.

“If you look at the list and the estimate, it consumed almost the entire five hundred million dalasis for allowances,” Dr. Samateh said.

The medical doctor said when his ministry rejected that, they went back and brought another list which was big.

“When we look at the list, they mentioned over three hundred volunteers and nobody knows where all those volunteers come from,” he said.

Minister Samateh said the names of the volunteers were removed and they were asked to bring the list of the core (frontline) people. He said his ministry was able to trace repeated names at different places in the same list.

He told the lawmakers that that list was also rejected adding he went to Kotu at the Central Medical Store where he spent a whole day until 2 am with his people to come up with a list.

“Our intention was to give them something because it was difficult for them. They sometimes go home late, but we needed a list,” he said.

Samateh explained that if he had not done that, there would have been a disaster.

“As we looked at the list, we saw that there were various duplications and that night alone we removed over 300 names,” he said.

He said they were able to remove these names with the help of the team leaders who were called to identify those under them. He said after that process, their names were arranged alphabetically and this was how they were able to trace all the duplicated names.

Dr. Samateh said these were the categories of frontline workers who were to be given allowances.

He said the frontline workers are those who were in the contact tracing team, surveillance team, laboratory units, case management units, workers at accident and emergency wards and the people at the outpatient wards.

“Some people were putting their friends, relatives to be in that frontline (list),” he said.

He said the idea of the list is to pay the frontline workers first and then pay others, maybe less. He said when people knew that those at the emergency unit were going to be given allowance, they began writing their names under them.

“This is the nightmare we are facing,” Samateh said.