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Sacked Vihiga health workers stage protest, demand unpaid salaries

Thursday December 05 2019
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Vihiga Governor Wilbur Ottichilo who has sacked over 500 employees in the Health department in a purge on illegally hired staff. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By DERICK LUVEGA

More than 500 health workers, who were sacked by the county government of Vihiga over irregular recruitment, have protested the decision saying they were being targeted unfairly.

This happened as Governor Wilber Ottichilo sacked the country's secretary Francis Ominde after months of infighting over claims of insubordination, gross misconduct and incompetence.

The decision by the governor to send the official packing came a day after the devolved unit said it had terminated the services of at least 528 health staff over irregular hiring.

PUBLIC INTEREST

Mr Ominde, who was previously interdicted, had secured a stay order blocking the sacking of staff in the health department, a move that may have angered the governor.

Dr Ottichilo said the decision to sack Mr Ominde is in public interest and in line with Section 44 (2) of the County Government Act.

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But Mr Ominde protested the decision, saying it had no basis in law as the matter on his interdiction was pending in court.

The official described the move as "madness," noting that it is intended to divert attention from the crisis in the health sector and the matter of delayed exchequer releases occasioned by a backlog of pending bills.

He warned that Dr Ottichilo was inviting more problems for himself.

"That (sacking) letter cannot be taken seriously. The governor could be running mad. A case is still before the Labour Court,” he said.

The disgruntled sacked health workers were employed in May by the defunct County Public Service Board (CPSB), but were dismissed following revelations that they were hired irregularly.

The affected staff on the other hand are demanding their seven months’ unpaid salaries.

They have called on the county administration to implement a court order that stayed the decision to sack them until the matter is heard and determined. The case is before the Labour court in Kisumu.

On Tuesday, through a notice in the dailies, the new CPSB that took oath of office about two weeks ago said announced that it had nullified the recruitment exercise held in May, consequently sending home 528 health staff of different cadres.

And on Wednesday, the staff, who were led by Ms Margret Kagoizi, converged at the county referral hospital where they expressed their frustrations and called on Dr Ottichilo to reinstate them and pay them their dues in full.

"As we speak, we have been frustrated at work for long. A public notice nullifying our recruitment was placed in the newspaper by a Board that took office recently," said Ms Kagoizi.

She added: "The board is barely two weeks in office. It does not even understand the challenges we are going through. Our salaries should be paid and the court order respected."

The CPSB, through a notice in the dailies, said it had investigated the matter and concluded that the whole process was irregular.

"The board has investigated the process of recruitment and appointments and established that the exercise was marred by massive irregularities and illegalities," the board chaired by Mr Franklin Esipila said in the notice which announced the nullification of the recruitment exercise and subsequent appointment.

In October, Governor Ottichilo sacked 308 of the 528 staff and noted that investigations into the irregular hiring was ongoing.

But on Wednesday, the affected staff demanded for the report that the new board used to reach a decision to nullify the entire recruitment exercise.

"They (board) should have paid us our salaries before nullifying our employment. We also have a court order in place. It should be respected," Mr Kevin Vidonyi, a radiologist said.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Geoffrey Enonda, who called out the new hiring body asking it to provide the report it relied on to end their employment.

"Positions were advertised and we applied. We went through the due process but seven months later, we are being told we were irregularly employed," he said.

Mr Aggrey Musiega, the lawyer representing the affected staff has written to the board citing an existing court order staying termination of service for the health workers.

"While acting in the manner you have done, we do not require any other evidence to convince us that you have already chosen to break every provision of the law safeguarding the workers' rights," said Mr Musiega.

In his letter, Mr Musiega said the board risks being cited for contempt for disregarding the court order.

The developments came as Governor Ottichilo made an official two week trip to Spain.

The governor said he made the decision to sack his county secretary in public interest, citing dishonest on his part.

"I have decided to terminate your employment as County Secretary. I constituted a special committee to investigate the allegations against you. I am reliably informed that you declined to appear before it," Dr Ottichilo said in the termination letter seen by Nation.

Dr Ottichilo also accused Mr Ominde of being involved in politics after he declared interest in the governorship, saying the move had affected service delivery.

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