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HomeMedico-LegalSAMA appoints mediator to address internal tussles

SAMA appoints mediator to address internal tussles

A mediator has been appointed in efforts to resolve the South African Medical Association’s (SAMA) battle for “legitimate” governance, and to work out how its board is constituted.

SAMA chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said the disaffected and suspended Western Cape branch, comprising active members of the association, had yet to agree on a date or venue for a meeting. The branch has been rendered dysfunctional and without leadership for seven months, because of the suspension.

The board suspended the influential 12-person Western Cape branch from all SAMA committees and activities after learning it had used its branch budget to pay for legal advice on the issue. It also threatened to charge them with theft of SAMA funds, reports Mail & Guardian.

The row centres on whether the sitting board, elected for a three-year term in 2018, is legally constituted in terms of its memorandum of incorporation (MOI).

The parties can’t agree on whether the interpretation of the MOI under the Company’s Act allows the annual general meeting or the broader tri-annual national council to elect the board. The Western Cape branch says excluding the more broadly representative national council from the election process is “undemocratic, centrist and authoritarian”.

A national council meeting is now a year overdue.

But the board says its reading of the MOI allows it to rely on the AGM to constitute itself. Of its 11 members, only four were appointed at the 2018 national council, it said, omitting to mention that Mzukwa and his deputy’s posts are contested, given that they were appointed in an acting capacity after the controversial resignation of previous chair Dr Angelique Coetzee in February.

Asked why the board had not charged its alienated branch with theft, Mzukwa said resolving the matter “in the most amicable, least disruptive manner is in the best interests of SAMA”.

But relations are deeply strained, with some Western Cape members favouring arbitration, given lengthy delays in board responses, and claiming that its strategy is to “remove dissent”, while trying for a second time to push through a new MOI without calling a national council.

The Western Cape branch claims its suspension is illegal and that SAMA members are “too embarrassed” to sit on a yet-to-be constituted disciplinary committee because the charges are based on a “convenient” post facto SAMA budget spending protocol. Mzukwa denies this, saying the branch “clearly breached policy” by not limiting its spending to issues within its geographical boundaries.

SAMA rules also require each national committee to convene and discuss member suspensions, which has not happened. The pivotal constitutional matters committee has thus lost two members, leaving one incumbent, and rendering its oversight futile.

The now financially constrained Western Cape branch members have little recourse to litigation, as it would have to be funded by the suspended members, putting SAMA’s board in a potentially powerful position.

Mzukwa invited anyone who disagrees with the proposed MOI and actions of the board, and felt they were inadequately responded to, to lay a complaint with the Companies Commission.

He denied any split in SAMA, saying membership figures were steady. “This is an internal matter affecting a handful of members while the broader SAMA membership expects SAMA to abide by its policies and diligently guard the assets and expenditure of the association.”

One SAMA insider said: “The fundamental issue is that the board is being badly advised by those who don’t understand what a professional association is all about. They put the emphasis on an incorrect and narrow interpretation of the Companies Act, which is not appropriate for a non-profit company.”

A former SAMA chairperson, eThekwini orthopaedic surgeon Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, said, “A problem with the medical profession in general is the toxic wider SA politics – you have to be very careful.”

The historic backdrop to the wrangle is the formation of the SAMA Trade Union (SAMATU) several years ago, which the courts split from SAMA after it tried to claim membership fees from state employed doctors. SAMATU is under administration, having previously made a futile bid to the High Court to have SAMA dissolved.

Mzukwa, responding to claims that some of his board members were still SAMATU-aligned, said: “There’s nothing precluding people from joining SAMATU according to the MOI. We don’t view SAMATU as our enemy. If there’s any conflict for a board member, they must declare their affiliation – and nobody has done so.”

On why the dispute was being allowed to drag out, he said: “The board seeks a speedy resolution … and believes the organisation has expediency in its work serving the needs of its members and … South Africa.”

Pressing issues facing doctors include uncertainty about the National Health Insurance (NHI), provisions of the allied but suspended Certificate of Needs legislation now before before the Constitutional Court, a burgeoning climate of litigation and the criminalisation of adverse patient events (medication side-effects, injury, psychological harm or death), and thinly spread doctors in a burgeoning population with a quadruple burden of disease.

 

Mail & Guardian article – Mediator appointed for South African Medical Association’s internal drama (Restricted access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Beginning of the end for SAMA as Western Cape branch suspended?

 

SAMA averts liquidation by its union over R307m

 

Concourt rejects SAMA appeal over millions in trade union deductions

 

Union’s battle with SAMA is attempt at ‘daylight robbery’ — Founding chair

 

 

 

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