General News of Sunday, 21 October 2018
The public is seriously questioning the delayed reinstatement of Dr Francis Ibrahim-Betonsi almost two months after the Medical and Dental Council (MDC) had cleared him for recall.
At the centre of a groundswell of a public outburst over the delay is the Human Resource Director (HRD) at the Ghana Health Service (GHS) headquarters, Dr Margaret Chebere.
The GHS Director-General, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, acted swiftly, after Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi’s clearance documents got to his table from the Registrar of the MDC, Dr Eli Kwesi Atikpui, on Friday 7th September, 2018, by forwarding the documents in no time to the Human Resource Director to begin the reinstatement process.
But the process, in the strong observations of those monitoring it closely, has taken a longer time than expected as Dr Chebere continues to cite issues of financial clearance as an excuse.
When Starr News contacted her on Wednesday 3rd October (about three weeks ago) on the reinstatement course, she said a letter (she did not mention the date on it) had been mailed from her office to the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department to check if Dr. Ibrahim-Betonsi’s name had been blocked or deleted from the payroll.
She said if the name had been deleted from the payroll, the reinstatement would take a long time, until somewhere early next year, to effect, but a short time if it was only blocked.
Starr News’ subsequent checks at the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department revealed that his name was on the payroll but his account had been blocked, which could mean that his salaries, since his wrongful dismissal in 2012 (six years ago) after exposing a blood transfusion extortion scandal, were being paid into his bank account but he could not access them.
Human Resource Director at odds with Facts at CAGD
Dr Chebere is aware of the status of the reinstatement-due doctor on the payroll— that his name has not been deleted and, for that matter, he should be reassigned without further delay.
But when asked later why no word had been heard from her office on the fate of the devastated doctor, she said the payroll machines had not been opened for the reinstatement process to be completed.
Further checks by Starr News show that the payroll machines have, since July this year, been consistently opened on the 18th day and closed on the 20th day of every month for validation of payment vouchers, pending disbursement of salaries in the public service.
As usual, the machines were opened on Tuesday September 18, but shockingly, Dr Chebere allowed the validation window to be closed on Thursday September 20 without doing anything about the problem.
And again, after the machines were opened just last Thursday October 18 for validation, she said the machines would be opened on Saturday October 20— which is actually the closing date!
“I believe the Human Resource Director is deliberately frustrating the process,” said a UNICEF official who wants to remain anonymous.
“This is simple. Why not place the doctor at a health facility, once the Medical and Dental Council has cleared him, whilst working on his financial clearance? At least, that would reduce the stress the innocent young man has gone through for years. I just find it difficult to comprehend.”
Farouk Umar, an international relations consultant, remarked: “It’s a serious indictment on a country, which claims its doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to eight thousand patients is abysmal, to treat a doctor like this. He has been cleared to be reinstated; that’s what we heard. I was in the UK (United Kingdom) last month when a radio network picked up the issue as a topic after the news went global online. I felt embarrassed in London as a Ghanaian because of this. So, what is wrong with our healthcare system in Ghana?”
Dismissal or Vacation of Post?
Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi’s open disapproval of some alleged rot in the health system got him into trouble with some upset superiors tagging him as a madman.
Four psychiatric tests were imposed on him from ‘the top’ but he was found to be normal. When a fifth assessment was imposed by same superiors, he felt he was only being victimised and refused to comply.
He was dismissed from the GHS for noncompliance with a directive to go for assessment and treatment of what the GHS termed “possible delusional disorder”.
Whilst some observers have questioned the dismissal even if the doctor was indeed mentally ill, saying the National Labour Act, the Disability Act and the Mental Health Act all frown on discrimination against persons with disabilities (including mental disability) as far as job placement is concerned, some say his removal from the service did not follow due process— and, for that matter, was an illegality.
“You can see the signature of the then Director-General in the dismissal letter. But the signature of the Human Resource Director is missing in same letter. Administratively, that is wrong.”
“If you are dismissing an employee, it is the human resource director who signs, not a government appointee like a Director-General. The medical board must be in the know and the human resource director must append his or her signature to the dismissal letter. The human resource director, as the primary employer, is the one who hires and fires at any institution,” a senior official at the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department told Starr News.
A source at the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department told Starr News the reason given by the GHS in 2012 for Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi’s salaries to be terminated was that he had vacated post. But, as a copy of the letter given him in 2012 clearly shows, the doctor was indefinitely suspended— a suspension move some say is technically the same as a blatant dismissal once it has spanned six years without salaries.
Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi says he has not been copied and he has not sighted any letter written to the Controller and Accountant-General’s Department citing that he vacated post.
His immediate boss, Dr Richard Anthony, who is the Medical Superintendent at the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital, is quoted to have said he never wrote such a letter to any office that the gifted doctor vacated post. So, who wrote the letter? Dr Chebere?
Starr News booked Dr Chebere for an interview on this long-running case, with twelve questions attached to the interview notice. She did not respond when Starr News placed telephone calls to her on the proposed date and no return call came from her end until this report was filed five days after the abortive attempts to reach her.
Starr News learns Dr Chebere once invited Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi to Accra through one Prof. Juventus Ziem and Dr Sam Bugre and pledged to reinstate him with full compensation; but the beleaguered doctor waited for more than a year without a word from her until Starr News brought his plight to light.
“Look at me. I used to take my lunch at big-time restaurants before I was victimised and dismissed. Now, I eat kofi-brokeman (roasted plantain and groundnuts) as my regular lunch by the roadside,” the hungry hero told Starr News.
Dr Ibrahim-Betonsi is well-read. From global politics to world soccer, the eloquent general practitioner has the archives of many fields in his head. He was declared fit to practise by Ghana’s foremost psychiatrist, Professor Joseph Bediako Asare, and a leading clinical psychologist, Professor Araba Sefa-Dedeh, this year after a compulsory fifth psychiatric assessment, requested by the MDC, was conducted on him in April, 2018.
The report added that he had suffered a lot of trauma as a result of the years of depression induced by the false accusations and wrongful dismissal.
“If I had my way,” said an angry headmistress, Madam Stella Boamah, “I would remove Dr Chebere from work and also block her salary so she can have a feel how people feel when they are not sure how long they would continue to go to bed without food in their stomachs. As a woman, and I want to believe she has her own children, she should be the last person to do this to somebody’s child, a young doctor whose mother is no more. What is even more shocking is that she and the doctor are from the Upper West region where Ghana has the worst doctor-patient ratio. Just look at the irony.”