Volunteers disappointed after ministry hires new cleaners

By Maria Kandjungu

A BOUT 18 people who volunteered to clean the Katutura and Windhoek Central hospitals over the past two years have sought an audience with Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila after the Health Ministry apparently sidelined them from 39 cleaning positions.

The 18, who have been cleaning at the hospitals since December 2017, say they were promised preference for the cleaning jobs when there where vacancies to be filled. However, the ministry recently employed about 39 cleaners, of which only two were taken from the group of volunteers, a situation that they described as painful.

Confidente understands that the volunteers cleaned the yards of Katutura hospital, cutting grass, weeding and clearing of thorns before they were moved inside the hospital and some to Central hospital to sweep and mop corridors, ward rooms, toilets and all other sections that needed cleaning for more than two years on the promise of getting permanent cleaning positions when such posts become available.

The ministry throughout the two year period (although inconsistently) is said to have provided them with boots, rakes, packets of food for lunch and organised one ministry mini-bus to pick them up for work and drop them off at their homes after, among other essentials.

“We were reassured that should the cleaning posts open up, preference will be given to us. They told us we were doing a good job and we were hopeful. For two years now we stayed and we worked every day, even when we missed work we were asked to submit a doctor’s letter or request for sick leave.

“We did the same work as those employed; we were given leave days at the end of the year. They gave us so much hope, we were sure we will be given jobs, the minister and the PS knew about us. Everyone in those hospital knows about us.”

However, to their dismay, the ministry advertised cleaning positions last year and thousands of people showed up for interviews. Although all the volunteers qualified for first interviews, only two were given jobs.

“What pains us the most is that they let us work for more than two years, and they kept reassuring us that we would get the jobs. We volunteered for two years without getting a cent from government, except they picked and dropped us every day. We all worked with the hope that when the positions come out, we will be the first to be considered.

“That is what they promised us, just for them to employ 39 people from outside and they couldn’t take the 18 of us and add 21 outsiders. We have worked for years, we have proven that we are capable for two years and for what? Just to be dropped later for people to put their own families and friends in those positions.”

Executive director of the Health Ministry Ben Nangombe who said he was aware of the volunteers, said the issue is a bit complicated as his “hands are tied” when it comes to recruitment.

“There are procedures to be followed when it comes to employment and if I were to sideline those and employ them then you and everyone else will come back to me accusing me of favouritism, nepotism and even corruption.

“We have a number of people volunteering for different other odd jobs so if you ask me to give them jobs on this basis does this apply to everyone… do we offer them without following procedures?” he asked.

Nangombe added that when resources allow, they were given rakes and boots as those were things under his control, “but to say that they were promised jobs is not entirely correct.

“As an accounting officer and executive director, I cannot promise someone a job. It would be contrary to the law. In this case we advertised the positions as required by law and you have seen how many people applied.

“We have over 4,000 applications. So, we had to follow procedures… those who applied were subjected to a written test, shortlisted candidates were interviewed orally. And to do otherwise is to be in violation of the law.

“We feel for the volunteers but it is not in our hands. It is close to impossible for me to that (job preference). There is really nothing I can do. If anybody went out and made promises, they did this without considering the implication, which would include nepotism, corruption and favouritism and would have landed us in trouble. It goes without saying that we highly value what they have done. Their work has been noticed and highly appreciated but my hands are tied. We are bound by the law.”

The volunteers are hoping to meet with the prime minister to take up their concerns. Nangombe told Confidente that should he receive a directive from the higher-ups, he would act on it, but until then there is nothing his office can do about the matter.