Axed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Solomon Sekwakwa believes the COVID-19 Response Team, at the behest of Dr. Malaki Tshipiyagae, is responsible for his dismissal. He claims circumstances that led to his sacking can only be traced to a difference of opinion on how to handle a new crisis – in this case the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking to this publication the unapologetic and soft spoken Sekwakwa said while it is common for people to differ on governance issues, he did not anticipate that it would lead to him losing his job in that fashion. He recalls one particular incident in which the task team wanted him to dismiss a certain technical officer from the ministry but he did not consent to their request as there was no substance to their plea.“I ignored that and continued with my work,” said Sekwakwa.
He also said he explained that the mandate of the Ministry of Health is to ensure that Batswana are healthy and free from all kinds of illnesses that one can think of, including COVID 19. He cautioned that both the the COVID-19 Task Force and the Ministry’s management should adhere to government protocols and procedures.“In the past 36 years as a public servant, I have learnt and I know procedure. I will never allow anyone to trample upon policies. We all have to follow procedures and do our duties to serve the nation diligently,” said Sekwakwa.
He revealed that matters came to a head just a few days before the 48-day national lockdown when the director of health services, Malaki Tshipiyagae took a decision to put the country on lockdown without informing his principals or consulting other stakeholders.“The director, although he has powers from the Act, can’t just execute his powers in isolation without informing other stakeholders,” protested Sekwaka.
He stated that the Minister of Health, Dr Lemogang Kwape called him and asked why the country was on lockdown and instructed him to call Tshipiyagae to withdraw the savingram. Sekwakwa said he tried to get hold of the director several times as it was a weekend, but couldn’t manage to get through. He later learnt that the director was out of town and did not have access to any network.“I wrote the letter reversing the initial letter that was written by the director of health services,” he said.
Sekwakwa dismissed reports suggesting that he was dismissed on the basis that he nullified the first letter that put the country on lockdown.“It can’t be that the letter led to my dismissal because it was done without consultations. I was instructed by the minister to reverse the letter,” claims Sekwakwa. He also said in between a lot happened and he initially thought he would overcome those challenges. He revealed that his fate came the day he was in a teleconferencing meeting with the European Union ambassador when the letter was handed to him by a senior government official on that fateful day.
He said the dismissal letter had about three paragraphs but did not address reasons behind his sacking up until now. “I believe and hope that those who fired me did not do it out of personal reasons, but for the sake of the county,” he said.Sekwakwa pointed out that one thing that disturbed him was for the COVID Task Team to report directly to the president without first reporting to the Ministry of Health. “We often received calls from the office of president (OP) to come and explain for the things that we don’t know,” he said adding that “it would have been better if the task team would first report to the ministry collectively and formulate better strategies and ideas in fighting Covid-19.
”The former permanent secretary said he was on the verge of transforming the Ministry and addressing all problems that have been besieging the ministry. He indicated that he had identified three major challenges among them staff issues as the ministry was failing to retain and attract professionals.The second issue was that the “government facilities, hospitals, clinics are dilapidated and I wanted to address that so that maintenance can be timely.”
The last issue was about drugs distribution across the country.“You won’t believe me when I say that every year, we destroy drugs worth of millions. How do you destroy drugs worth millions of Pula while there is shortage of drugs in each and every health facility across the country,” he said.