Blue Cross closes shop, lays off workers


Pascalinah Kabi

LESOTHO’S only national rehabilitation centre for drug and alcohol addicts, Blue Cross Thaba Bosiu Centre, has resolved to lay off all its 28 employees until the government releases its subvention to enable it to fund its operations.

The centre’s decision was communicated to employees in a letter dated 28 April. This is not the first time the centre has been forced into the drastic action. Workers were sent home for similar reasons from October to December 2018.

Blue Cross is wholly funded by the government through the Ministry of Health but the latter has not given the centre its subvention for the first quarter of the year.

The lack of funding prompted the Blue Cross board to lay off all 28 employees until such time when the centre receives funds from government.

Part of the letter by the Blue Cross director, Thabo Mokhutšoane, to the workers states that “the board of Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre resolved in their meeting of the 28th of April 2019, that due to the financial situation at TBC, there will be staff lay off until we have completed our discussions with Ministry of Health regarding development of the contract”.

Mr Mokhutšoane confirmed that the latest developments in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times.

He further said they were supposed to admit new patients on 6 May but were unable to “due to some administrative issues that involve the Ministry of Health”.

He said the “administrative issues” included the government’s failure to provide Blue Cross with its subvention for the first quarter from January to March 2019 and this had resulted in the centre failing to pay ordinary workers’ April salaries. Senior management was last paid in February.

He said the centre’s problems could be traced back to the failure to renew the memorandum of understanding between itself and the government after its expiry in 2016.

Ever since the expiry of the memorandum of understanding, the government had been issuing temporary addendums as the basis for advancing funds to the centre but even these addendums were last issued in December 2018.

“There must be an addendum or contract in place for the Health ministry to release funds to us. The last addendum expired on 31 December 2018 and without it, the ministry could not process payments of any funds to us.

“I suspect that government does not want to give us an addendum so that it can finalise a new contract with us and once that contract has been finalised it is only then that funds will be released. So in the absence of either contract or addendum we have not been able to get our funds for the last quarter with the result that we are unable to admit patients and keep our workers.

“Given the debts that we have accumulated and our inability to admit the patients, the board resolved that we could not continue incurring costs of salaries, fuel and other expenses. So the board decided to lay off workers and we will recall them once the negotiations with the ministry have been completed. We have done this before,” Mr Mokhutšoane said. He said although they recently met the Minister of Health, Nkaku Kabi over the issue, they could not tell how long it would be before they would resume normal operations.

Blue Cross Thaba-Bosiu Centre previously laid off workers from October to December 2018 due to similar financial constraints and only recalled them on 2 January 2019 after receiving funds from the government. Mr Mokhutšoane said the funds they were given on 20 December 2018 had enabled them to survive the first three months of this year.

Mr Mokhutšoane said Mr Kabi appeared sincere and he was confident that a new contract would be signed with the government and the centre’s funding challenges would soon be a thing of the past.

“The minister came to Thaba-Bosiu with his entire management. He wants to resolve the issues, have a new contract signed and funds released to us very soon. He (Mr Kabi) seemed sincere. This is just a temporarily laying off (of workers) because the minister wants all outstanding issues resolved and that we start on a clean slate,” Mr Mokhutšoane said.

On his part, Mr Kabi said the differences between the two parties had been ironed out after last Monday’s meeting.

“There was a misunderstanding which I believe I have managed to sort out in that (Tuesday) meeting and both parties now have a clearer understanding.

“The Ministry of Health’s principal secretary wanted us to part ways but we need each other. Basotho really need the services offered by Blue Cross and letting go of Blue Cross would mean that there would not be one offering those services.

“If those people do not get services from Blue Cross, we would be creating yet another chaos of disease burden which we wouldn’t be able to manage. Therefore we have to solve this thing (issues with Blue Cross) amicably,” Mr Kabi said.

He further said a new contract had been prepared and once some issues emanating from the old contract had been addressed then a new one would be signed this week so that new patients can be admitted into the centre this month.

“We are not going our separate ways. Instead, Blue Cross will sign the new contract and the Health ministry will release funding. I met with them (Blue Cross) last Monday because they had failed to find a solution when I had asked them to meet with deputy minister (of Health) ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli and the principal secretary, Lefu Manyokole. I had to step in because they wanted to part ways,” Mr Kabi said.

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