THE government has given the Tšepong Consortium 60 days to vacate the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH).
The notice is with effect from 1 June 2021. This means that the Consortium, which has been operating the hospital on behalf of the government since its opening in 2011, should leave by the end of next month.
QMMH Public Relations Officer Thakane Mapeshoane confirmed the latest development in what appears to have descended into a war of attrition between the government the Consortium.
“The government has written to us, saying we have 60 days to vacate the premises and that is as far as we know,” Ms Mapeshoane said in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.
“We were called to a meeting by our bosses and we were informed that they had received a letter from the government giving us 60 days from yesterday to vacate the premises. We are waiting for the management to respond to the government,” Ms Mapeshoane added.
Health Minister Semano Sekatle declined to comment on the matter, saying the government will communicate its position on the matter in due course.
The latest move follows the government’s March 2021 decision to cut ties with the Consortium which has run QMMH since it opened its doors in 2011.
Announcing the decision, Mr Sekatle said the government felt it could no longer continue its 18-year Private Public Partnership (PPP) entered into 2008 with the Consortium for the construction, running and transfer of the hospital due to serious differences which had plagued the agreement from the very beginning.
South African healthcare group, Netcare, has a 40 percent stake in the Tšepong Consortium. Four other companies, namely, Afri’nnai of South Africa; Excel Health, Women Investment and D10 Investments (all from Lesotho) hold the balance of the shares.
Mr Sekatle said although the government and the consortium had differed over many issues, the final straw was the latter’s March 2021 decision to fire 200 striking nurses and nursing assistants at the institution.
The nurses had gone on strike on 1 February 2021 to press the government and QMMH to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.
QMMH nurses said they have not been awarded any increments since 2012 when the government and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) increased the salaries of nurses at other institutions.
According to the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA), nurses at QMMH earn about M9000 each per month. The figure is way less than the M13 000 earned by their colleagues in CHAL facilities and other government hospitals.
After the firing of the nurses, Health ministry Principal Secretary (PS) Khothatso Tšooana had written to the Consortium informing it of the government’s decision to terminate the contract.
In his 12 April 2021 reply to PS Tšooana, Tšepong general manager Zondy Mohapi indicated that the Consortium would not challenge the termination of its contract would demand the requisite compensation.
However, the Consortium denied any wrongdoing including claims that it had fleeced the government and repeatedly failed to offer specialised care to patients over the years. The Consortium also wants the government to pay it for the premature termination of the 18-year PPP deal.
It has said the government would have to fork out way more than just the M3 billion which Finance Minister Thabo Sophonea has said is the termination fee. The Consortium alleges the government owes other sums in unpaid fees hence the demand for much more than just the termination fee. However, it does not say how much the government should pay. It merely says the amount is disputed by the government.
It seems the government would have to tread carefully on the termination issue to avoid being saddled with another Frazer Solar debacle.
In this particular case, the government’s assets in different countries have been seized to pay off Frazer Solar more than £50 million (M856 million) in damages for breaching a 2018 agreement with the German company aimed at providing Lesotho with 40 000 solar water heating systems, 20 megawatts of solar power capacity, 1 million LED lights and 350 000 solar lanterns over four years.