Mukudzei Chingwere Herald Reporter
The three Government-appointed board members at Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) are being sidelined on issues concerning the board they sit on as the representatives of the employer who pays the bulk of the cash used by the society, most of whose members work for the State.
The three are Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Mr Martin Rushwaya, reprsenting that office, Mr Pfungwa Kunaka representing Treasury which provides the bulk of the cash, and Dr Tsitsi Choruma representing the Public Service Commission, the employer.
Civil servants have been complaining that PSMAS has failed its members who are automatically up to date with their remittances since these are deducted from their Government pay, but in some cases see their medical aid cards being turned away by healthcare service providers who say the time taken for payment is far too long.
Some of the problems have been laid at the feet of senior management and board members who are reportedly mooting diversification into other areas such as mining and insurance, disregarding the society’s founding objectives, and who have also introduced co-payments.
Addressing the media yesterday, Mr Kunaka said the three were appointed to the board of PSMAS, to represent Government, the paymaster and employer, and by extension the public interest. It is common in medical aid societies largely built around a single employer for the employer to have representation on the board, although with a majority of elected board members.
“Recent actions taken by other members of the board have brought matters to a head for us, as those actions compromise the focus of the board on substantive matters relating to the task of overseeing the correction of developments that compromise access to healthcare by PSMAS members.
“Among these disturbing actions is the holding of caucuses to which some selected members of the board are invited to the exclusion of others, pointedly members appointed to the board by Government.
“Invariably, there is no clarity as to what the agenda of such caucuses are. That is not the way boards are supposed to function, and certainly not the way good governance principles are supposed to be applied,” said Mr Kunaka.
“We were surprised to learn from press reports that the chairman of the PSMAS board received, and responded to, correspondence from the regulator of medical aid societies in which the regulator advised that the annual general meeting scheduled for 30 June 2022 should be postponed to allow space for a forensic audit.
“Given the importance of that correspondence, the board chairman was under obligation to consult the board before he could respond. His failure to do so, and his subsequent failure to even explain that gross irregularity to the board, is serious cause for alarm.
“The possibility that such unilateral action is the norm in the PSMAS board raises grave governance questions that cannot go unaddressed,” said Mr Kunaka.
He said, some members of the board appear to have become conflicted, with unfounded claims that Government, which extends significant funding to its employees to support their access to healthcare through the PSMAS card, and which has injected $5.2 billion into PSMAS since January 2022, intends to “take over” PSMAS.
Mr Kunaka said, their energies in pursuing and disseminating that false narrative is not accompanied by a similar focus on the financial governance of PSMAS, as might be expected of a board that oversees the use of the large sums that have been disbursed to address real problems faced by members.
“The leadership of the board would be expected to convene meetings to discuss such questions as how the considerable resources provided to PSMAS both by members and from the public purse should best be deployed to address the uselessness to members of the PSMAS card, owing in large measure to the non-settlement of obligations to service providers.
“The PSMAS board has played truant on its core business. We, as board members who are being sidelined, and whose inputs on key matters such as accountability are being summarily dismissed, believe that something very fundamental has gone seriously wrong,” he said.
Mr Kunaka said they felt there ought not to be any significant divergence between board members who are supposed to represent the interests of workers and the Treasury, which secures those interests through regular and consistent disbursements to PSMAS.
He said some board members have sought to deflect attention from the core issues through ill-conceived posturing, and have even suggested that the historical compact between Government and its workers on healthcare support through PSMAS should be broken through a rechanneling of public funds meant exclusively to support access to healthcare to arbitrary use or misuse.
“We would also like to dissociate ourselves, as PSMAS board members, from the intemperate attacks on a statutory function that was instituted to oversee the correct functioning of all medical aid societies in Zimbabwe, namely the Office of the Regulator of Medical Aid Societies,” said Mr Kunaka.
“We cannot associate ourselves with the refusal to be regulated that appears to have been instigated by some members of the board.
“For these reasons, we feel that our function, as members of the apex governance structure of PSMAS, has been subverted and rendered ineffectual through pointed acts of discrimination and the off hand dismissal of inputs that would assist the society to get back on its feet to serve the real interests of PSMAS members.
“Clearly for us, this board has become dysfunctional as it has failed to play its fiduciary and governance role,” said Mr Kunaka.