- Working relationship at lowest level as parties hardly engage each other
- Task Force says DHMTs ordered not to report to them anymore
- Task Force unhappy with ministry’s uncoordinated TV updates
- Ministry says they have overall responsibility for health issues
The battle for supremacy between the two leading authorities in the war on COVID-19, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the COVID-19 Task Force, is far from over, The Botswana Gazette has established.
So serious is the hostility between the two that some insiders have already ascribed prevalent confusion and poor coordination in tackling the pandemic on this battle that has left the nation at the mercy of the marauding virus. The Gazette has established that as the numbers of positive cases and deaths from COVID-19 rise, contact-tracing which is a critical weapon against further infection, has almost been totally abandoned.
At the forefront of the power struggle is what the COVID-19 Task Force says was a deliberate decision by the Ministry of Health (MoH) to de-link District Health Management Teams (DHMTs) from supervision by the Task Force and have them report directly to MoH. The Task Force is mainly made up medical experts while bureaucrats largely run the show at MoH. “The teams used to report every day to the Task Force but have since stopped,” says a source on the Task Force. “We hear they now report to the ministry.”
Almost confirming this sorry state of affairs, ministry sources say there is no legal basis for DHMTs to report to the Task Force. The struggle for supremacy has extended even to the regular appearances on Btv to brief the nation. The Task Force says it is concerned that ministry officials have a tendency of going to Btv without consulting it and that this could confuse the nation because reliability of data to present should have a high standard of veracity. Again confirming this potentially disastrous state of affairs, MoH says it does not permission of the Task Force to brief the nation on any health matters, including on COVID-19, on television.
The Permanent Secretary of MoH, Kabelo Ebineng, has told The Botswana Gazette that the ministry “has a clearly stipulated constitutional mandate on the overall health of the nation” and that as far as he is “concerned, everything we do is within the confines of those parameters and the law”. He insisted: “Where necessary, we brief the Task Force but there are things we do by ourselves as the ministry.”
Ebineng added that he cannot even understand the where the animosity, if any exists, could be coming from because the Director of Public Health Services sits on the Task Force. However, insiders say unlike her predecessor, Dr Malaki Tshipiyagae, the new Director of Public Health Services, Malebogo Kebabonye, hardly attends meetings of the Task Force. “The reason Dr Malaki was stressed was that he was always stretched between the Task Force and his superiors at the ministry who were intolerant and contemptuous of the Task Force,” says a source.
Ministry personnel have never hidden its displeasure with the Task Force and its “unjustifiably hefty remuneration”. They say the bulk of the work is done by them at MoH while members of the Task Force take the bulk of the money in payment.
Health workers on the ground are confused because of this tug of war that has already resulted in instances of sabotage in which patients have allegedly suffered. There is also much finger-pointing. According to ministry officials who prefer anonymity, the Task Force is out of touch with the reality on the ground and tends to duplicate what has already been done by ministry personnel. Not so, says the Task Force that sees “the animosity as a clear case of jealousy and envy that has been there since day one”. Efforts to contact Professor Mosepele Mosepele of the Task Force proved futile when he did not respond to our efforts.
Meanwhile, concern over what is happening on the COVID-19 front has reached the National Assembly where the MP for Selebi-Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse, yesterday characterised the Task Force as an unnecessary cost and called for its swift disbanding. “The Presidential Task Force should swiftly disband and (to let) the Ministry of Health lead the COVID-19 fight,” Keorapetse said.
“The Task Force has become an unnecessary cost. The whole strategy must be reviewed, including the ending of writing down names at entries of shops and other places. Who has ever been called to test or isolate simply because a positive case has been identified at a place where they recently shopped? We need more honesty, consistency and transparency from those in charge of fighting the COVID-19 scourge.”