The recent recall of the Executive Secretary (ES) of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Prof Usman Yusuf has continued to generate reactions. There have been discordant reactions since. He was appointed on August 1, 2016 to inject fresh life into the operations of the NHIS after the removal of the erstwhile Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the organisation.
While it is common knowledge that the Yusuf took over after his appointment, along with heads of similar organisations in the health sector of government, it is also well known that most of the agencies there were facing credibility issues which were threatening continued assistance from donor partners.
It was well-reported that that foreign donor partners were threatening to stop funding of critical projects in the country due to lack of transparency, poor administration and gross incompetence. It was against this background that President Buhari made the appointment and the ES immediately set to work with a team that he could work with to remedy the situation on the ground.
The Health Insurance Scheme was facing lots of criticism, especially with the way the Health Management Occasions (HMOs) were running the system, leading to a situation where subscribers were not getting the best out of it, due to sharp practices on the part of some HMOs. But barely a year into his assumption of office, Prof Yusuf was suspended by the Minister of Health on the strength of a petition by the United Youth Alliance Against Corruption (UYAC) and Association of Senior Civil Servants.
Documents obtained from sources in the Presidency, sighted by this newspaper showed record of the back-and-forth between the Ministry of Health and the Presidency, clearly indicating that President Buhari was swayed into reinstating Professor Yusuf purely on account of righting the wrongs arising from mistaken procedures and actions.
The minister, relying on the petition, had constituted a 17-man committee under the headship of the then Permanent Secretary of the ministry to look into the petition by the body of civil servants. Out of the 17 members of the committee the minister appointed, 16 were staff of the ministry, with a lone member from the Department of State Services (DSS).
The request for a nomination from the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) was declined because they feared a conflict of interest. From the composition of the committee, it was obvious that the committee was neither independent nor free from bias. Some of the allegations brought against the ES by the UYAC could not be substantiated in 20of the 23 allegations as no evidence was brought forward. Others contained alterations and mix-ups in dates on some of the petitions, a source told Daily Trust.
In his bid to strengthen the weaknesses identified in the execution of the insurance scheme and in the procurement processes, Prof Yusuf got competent staff seconded to him from relevant organisations in the short run while a comprehensive long term staff replacement was being worked on. These efforts eventually were thwarted and the officers de-seconded in deference to public service bureaucratic norms as advised by the Federal Ministry of Labour.
As part of the N919, 000,000 alleged to have been mismanaged by the ES, it is on record that N411, 688, 704 was paid to NHIS staff as allowances and also to seconded staff as allowances and entitlements when he resumed. Payments to the consultants mentioned in the petition went through normal procurement protocol established in the organisation before approval by the ES subject to ratification of the Executive Management of the organisation.
Records within the organisation show that not one NHIS contracts was subjected to Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) review within the 2013-2017 period and it was in a view to addressing these anomalies that NHIS wrote to the BPP and other similar organisations to strengthen the procurement functions of the organisation.
The source added that there are some individuals or groups who are very comfortable with the old order of doing things that are hiding behind the petition-writers. He added that from the investigation, the Presidency identified an acute lack of capacity in the NHIS as organization and unless a new set of competent managers are found and recruited, the objectives of setting up of the NHIS may remain a mirage.
This is why, he said, the minister was directed to work with the ES to redress some of the identified shortcomings within the organisations to avoid a breakdown of one of the Federal Government’s flagship programmes and truncate the intention of government to expand the scope of beneficiaries of health insurance scheme and also to broaden government’s efforts in repositioning the health sector.
When contacted, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, who issued the statement announcing the Executive Secretary’s reinstatement, said he had not been briefed about the details. He however said that President Buhari’s unwavering commitment to justice would not allow him to act in any way or manner that denies a group or individuals their rights.
By: Unini Ebuka
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