Ghanaian News

GHS, Interpol chase study leave defaulters

The Ghana Health Service (GHS) is working with Interpol to identify and trace health workers who were granted study leave with pay to pursue programmes but failed to return to serve their bond terms on completion of their courses.

The move is aimed at compelling those beneficiaries to refund the salaries they enjoyed enabling them to undertake their studies in and outside Ghana.

Some of the beneficiaries were said to have even abandoned their courses or absconded without any notification.

Appearance
The Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, who made this known yesterday when the Ministry of Health (MoH) appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, said the ministry was working with Interpol to recover the amounts with interests.

“A number of the beneficiaries have made some efforts to pay back some of the salaries they received, with others having outstanding payments to make,” he said.

The MoH appeared to respond to red flags raised by the Auditor-General’s Report over infractions contained in the accounts of ministries, departments and other agencies for the year ending December 31, 2022.

Bond terms
Per the report, a number of health professionals were granted study leave with pay by health facilities they worked with but failed to return to serve their bond terms.

The bond conditions of the GHS requires that an awardee shall report for work at the end of the bond period.

An awardee who does not report to his or her previous station within 10 days after the expiration of the study leave period will be deemed to have vacated post and shall be made to refund all salaries paid to him or her while in school plus interest at the prevailing lending rate of the Bank of Ghana.

Per the recommendation of the Auditor-General, if such amounts were not recovered by the institutions that granted the study leave, the amounts should be recovered from Principal Medical Officers.

Report
When asked if the GHS had been able to recover the amounts from the beneficiaries, Dr Kuma-Aboagye said the service had not been able to recover some of the amounts as most of the beneficiaries were now living outside the country.

“We made report to the Interpol to assist us to recover the money back,” he said.

He said since 2021, with the current wave of brain drain, there had been a series of such incidents.

“But we are working very hard to see how we can find their guarantors to see how we can retrieve the money,” he said.

When his view was sought on the recommendation of the Auditor-General that if the health institutions that granted the study leave failed to recover the amounts from the beneficiaries, it should be recovered from Principal Medical Officers, Dr Kuma-Aboagye disagreed.

He said approval for study leave was given through regional health directorates to the headquarters of the GHS.

“They only make the recommendations, and I think they would have to deal with the service and not the individuals,” he said.

When the Chairman of the committee, Dr James Klutse Avedzi, asked how the GHS would retrieve the money, the Director-General said the headquarters of the GHS and regional directorates, as well as health facilities, were working together to locate those who guaranteed for the beneficiaries.

Asked if the GHS had been successful in retrieving unpaid salaries, he said that many beneficiaries, after hearing their names in the media, “came and paid”.

Relook bank directive
Dr Kuma-Aboagye disagreed with an earlier directive by the PAC that before one was granted study leave, they should have banks guaranteeing that they would come back, and if they defaulted, the banks would have to refund their salaries.

He said the implementation of such a directive would be difficult since the service needed certain capacities and specialties to move the service forward.

“It is in our interest to train some people to come and offer some service; so, putting in such major obstacle may be a problem because more than 95 per cent of beneficiaries return.

“And so we may have to relook that bank guarantee directive; the issue is that if that directive is also going to deter people from taking up such responsibilities, we also get affected,” he said.

With regard to the alarming increase in brain drain in the health sector, Dr Kuma-Aboagye said the GHS lost about 4,000 nurses across the country in the last three years.

“If we can pay same amount of money that is attracting them, we will keep them.

“We are losing very experienced nurses, and so we have to increase our study leave so that they can be replaced because there is very little one can do to stop them,” Dr Kuma-Aboagye said.

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