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PSMAS conundrum shoves patients’ health into ICU

Report by Andwatch Mambo

HARARE – Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) has pushed back against calls for the dissolution of the Premier Service Holding Company (PSHC) and suspension of the PSMAS Management and Board over allegations of embezzlement of public funds saying, rather the institution should be applauded for managing to stay afloat against sub economic subscriptions.

PSMAS is set to hold a make-or-break Annual General Meeting on June 30 against the backdrop of deteriorating healthcare access to card carrying members.

“What is worrying is that the company is in this hopeless situation but its Directors and principal Board members are living in opulence,” said leader of the Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD), Linda Masarira.

“Currently PSMAS is failing to clear its arrears to third parties and PSMI is drowning in huge debt and its going concern status threatened by this opulent and reckless squandering and embezzlement of public funds.”

Masarira also took a swipe at senior members of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (ZCPSTU) an umbrella body of civil servant unions, (names withheld) whom she alleged have been receiving hefty benefits way beyond those stipulated in the Companies Act, which include luxury vehicles and hefty sitting allowances yet pharmacies are empty and employees have gone for months without adequate salaries.

Employees and stakeholders are demanding a lifestyle audit and a serious review of personal gain for board members and senior managers.

“…Efforts for proper corporate governance through a forensic audit has been shot down since the Cuthbert Dube era in all PSMAS investment vehicles, a quite worrisome development in a multi-million dollar business,” Masarira said.

“Employees have expressed a vote of no confidence in the leadership and the entire board through their relevant structures but have been victimised and others fired for highlighting this stinking rot,” she added.

PSMAS, on the other hand, insist “nobody in the PSMAS and related entities has turned down a forensic audit.”

“PSMAS underwent a forensic audit that unearthed issues that led to the creation of the holding company and it welcomes any request for accountability. PSMAS has been publishing its financials in the media annually, and makes them publicly available,” read a response to allegations of embezzlement of funds.

“…It is too simple to say there are no drugs in the pharmacy because funds have been looted, without looking at all the factors that have contributed to PSMI failing to stock. In order for funds to be looted, funds actually have to be present in the first place. The PSMAS/PSMI family cannot loot empty coffers. Interestingly, it should be noted that the PSMI that all are talking about excitedly now came about as an unpopular action when it was first rolled out, but has become a major talking point, attracting interest from all corners.”

PSMAS was formed in 1930 by the Government as non-monetary benefit to its employees to be utilised to access healthcare services.

Government has been contributing 80% whilst its employees contribute 20% towards this non-monetary benefit vehicle.

The Society (PSMAS) has grown over the years opening branches in every town and in 2006 established Premier Service Medical Investments (PSMI), the largest private healthcare service provider in the country catering for the majority of Government employees.

Observers claim PSMAS service delivery has deteriorated with patients at Westend Hospital being requested to buy their own medicines and surgical sundries on top of a US$ based shortfall a scenario which has infringed access.

PSMAS insist stock outs, lack of equipment renewal and other examples of lack within the PSMI and PSMAS offering are a direct result of a funding model that is unsustainable and uneconomic.

“The allegation that hospitals are not well funded conveniently and unfortunately ignores the root cause of the underfunding. A medical facility operates on the basis of payments made for its services.

“…For the record, PSMAS membership is over 90 percent civil servants, who are paying a monthly subscription of ZWL1,800 per month.

“The PSMAS subscription was last reviewed in 2013 and the next adjustment was in October 2020. In that gap in time, the situation that has manifested today was already brewing, but a combination of concerted cost cutting and a strict reorganisation of the business model by management led to the organisations staying afloat.

“The proposed ideal subscription was US$30 or equivalence for optimal benefits to be derived by members.

“PSMAS also requires foreign currency which is always in short supply. Consumables, medications as well as ICT licences need to be paid for in foreign currency, which PSMAS and PSMI do not generate in any meaningful amounts. These necessities are what drives PSMAS to want to invest in mining where receipts are derived in forex. This was the brief given to the holding company which it is now being vilified for implementing as directed.

“…The fact that PSMI is actually operating speaks volumes on the level of business agility on the part of management in the face of overwhelming odds.”

Critics are demanding a lifestyle audit on senior managers and perusal of PSMAS investments to ensure accountability of public funds.

“How can one manager have over eight children enjoying unlimited school fees benefit with more than 15 cars serviced and maintained by the same organisation? How can a manager have the privilege of a pool car ahead of service delivery vehicles?” questioned an insider who requested anonymity fearing reprisal.

“How can an organisation have more than ten Toyota Fortuner Vehicles and 4 Toyota Landcruiser V8s for management without a single functional ambulance? All the ambulance fleet is obsolete and more than 15 years old yet this management is enjoying the opulence of fully furnished executive offices on rentals in Tendeseka and at Old Mutual Centre?”

Decision makers inside PSMAS say the vehicle scheme is above board and is part of efforts to ensure that all employees who are due for vehicles under their conditions of service access a vehicle as part of the drive to retain skills.

“The list given above conveniently ignores the vehicles procured for all doctors, pharmacists, lab scientists and key medical personnel as a skills retention initiative,” reads a response to the allegation.

“The organisation, like every other organisation, has to come up with strategies to retain staff, and for PSMI, keeping medical staff in country was a major goal at a time when medical skills flight was hitting the nation hardest.

“…During the same period, when the organisation facilitated the vehicle ownership scheme, it managed to also procure five ambulances, namely two (2) Toyota Quantum minibus ambulances and three (3) Toyota Hilux ambulances as part of fleet augmentation. The intention was to go further but due to cashflow constraints the company was unable to proceed beyond the five.”

“…This chaos within PSMI is a manufactured chaos designed to disenfranchise and distract both management and staff through an internal strife to pave way for third party interests. The bigger the gap in working capital, the bigger the crisis within PSMI.

“Instead of wasting time drafting and circulating baseless, speculative and malicious allegations on social media, energies are better served making direct enquiries to the persons concerned to get proper answers supported by evidence.”