The Ghana Medical Association and its striking doctors will lose out

Sat, 8 Aug 2015 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Folks, the head-butting going on between members of the Ghana Medical Association (Ghanaian doctors in public service) and the Mahama-led administration will likely not end soon; but I can stick my neck out to say that it will eventually not end in favour of the doctors.

First, now that the striking doctors' demands (be they proposals or substantive ones) are known and quickly dismissed as "outrageous", there is every indication that they can't win public sympathy to their cause.

Unlike previous occasions when the public seemed to tilt toward them, this time, the issues are different; and it is likely that the doctors won't win any support to warrant their persisting on being satisfied.

Second, the doctors' leaders seem to have over-stepped bounds in "politicizing" the matter to such an extent as to draw in the NPP to suggest that it is the government's incompetence that has engendered the industrial action. Although the NPP has urged/appealed to the doctors to return to work, there is already a perception that it is behind what is happening. Such an appeal is just a ruse, some claim.

Third, there seems to be division in the ranks of the GMA itself with some doctors not supporting their leaders' manouevres. At least, if the news reports are to be believed, it is emerging that not all members of the GMA have heeded their leaders' call to withdraw their services. Neither are they willing to resign en bloc as being urged. Thus, we foresee tension at the GMA front itself, which won't help it sustain its industrial action.

Fourth, the government has outsmarted the doctors by releasing the document containing their demands, which has attracted much public interest. In earlier circumstances, no one got to know what exactly the doctors demanded, short of which they withdrew their services. This time, not so.

The public have had access to the document to know more about the issues involved. Although some may sympathize with the doctors—especially viewing issues from the harsh living conditions in the country and perceptions that politicians are making it "big", unlike others in public service—the general feeling is that they are asking for far too much. The economy isn't strong enough to support such a venture.

Fifth, President Mahama's hardline position, saying that his government won't pander to anybody to spend money outside this year's budget threshold is clearly eye-popping. (See https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Mahama-to-Doctors-We-won-t-spend-out-of-budget-373286).

Such a strong statement tells us that he is not ready to bow to the kind of pressure being put on him by the GMA and all others following suit by either threatening to withdraw their services or or are already on strike.

Some may claim that he is insensitive to the cause of the striking doctors or others threatening to go on strike or doing so already; but the import of his statement must be clear by now: the government cannot just spend money anyhow when the wage bill is already high!! And there is every indication already that this firm position is supported by the public, especially those questioning the justification for the doctors' outrageous demands.

Sixth, public sentiments for the doctors' line of action won't last. It is more than likely that as the situation worsens, the public will put pressure on the striking doctors to return to post; and they will bow, especially if voices from the clergy and civil society groupings intensify the appeal for them to end it all.

Finally, the GMA leaders will come to realize that by insisting on not bowing to their pressure, the government has the clout. They are likely to see things differently if the government decides to enforce the regulations on public service, especially by refusing to pay them for the period that they didn't work or to ask those not ready to return to post to leave the service. It can be enforced.

The GMA leaders will likely back down on their dogged insistence on carrying the day and the doctors will return to post; but it will be at a huge cost to them, especially if they do so without their demands being met. What next will they do?

By then, they would have given themselves a bad name and the government an elbow room in which to call the shots henceforth. So, what would the GMA have achieved, after all, with this strike action? Nothing really but a bad name for itself, putting behind it the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath!!

Then, I can predict that they will wear their political blinkers and see things from their situated positions to do the anti-Mahama politics that the invisible hands have already begun pushing some toward doing. They will intensify their dirty politicking in their consulting rooms, theatres, and anywhere they go.

At that point, they are likely to turn their domain into a poaching ground for the rogue politicians and become pawns in a political game that won't change their circumstances, even if the NDC government leaves office after Election 2016. As must be obvious to them already—if they haven't yet heard it from the NPP's Kennedy Agyapong—no Ghanaian government can meet their demand!! What more do they need to be told?

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.