Terminated nurse gets justice at last

Weekender

By GIDEON KINDIWA

SHE believed in justice and fought for seven years to receive it.
Marcella Hasifangu is a senior nursing officer who was demoted, unlawfully terminated and ignored by her superiors – a distressing situation that lasted seven years and was finally solved in the National Court in February this year.
I first met Hasifangu in a quiet court room at Waigani. I walked in and the first thing I noticed about her was her motherly smile and humble personality. Little did I know of her outrageous courage and determination that drove her to fight for seven years.
I approached her after the session to get her comments as Justice Les Gavara-Nanu gave orders for her reinstatement, her salary to be backdated and damages done to her to be paid.
Five years of running from office to office following every official procedure and two years of non-stop legal battles finally paid off in a hundred-fold for her.
She was stunned with relief as justice was finally served.
I asked for an interview and the 52-year-old agreed for the next day as she was so overwhelmed and would not be able to speak outside the court house. During the interview the Sepik lady laughed proudly and talked a lot about showing her superiors how stubborn she can become to prove them wrong in court. Then she paused for a moment and said, “Son, it was a painful experience, to be thrown out and ignored and given no explanation at all.”
She poured out her heart about the struggles she had faced and the determination she had to overcome the tidal wave of systematic corruption. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she sat looking at her hands placed on the table and murmured, “It was a wilderness. Seven years of wilderness.”
“I was forced out of my position, put off the payroll, demoted, and even ignored by my bosses,” she cried.
“My qualification, experience and even my reputation was thrown to the trash for no reason at all. There wasn’t even a single explanation given to me. They should’ve at least told me why they were doing that.”
Hasinfangu has over 30 years of vast experience in clinical nursing, operating theatre management, teaching, and human resource management. All were trashed and no explanation was given. She needed answers.

Seeking administrative
measures: 2012 – 2014
The issue started in November 2011, one year after Hasifangu became the quality assurance officer (QAO) at Boram Hospital in Wewak. She was working at the Port Moresby General Hospital when she applied for the position because she wanted to go back to her province and serve her people. The QAO reports directly to the chief executive officer.
She was transferred to Wewak in November 2010. Whilst working in her new position, the then CEO of Boram put her on a seven-month attachment with the Department of Health headquarters in Port Moresby. There was no HR manager for Boram at the time and Marcella has qualifications and experience in human resource management so she was sent to the capital city to fix some unpaid salaries for the Boram staff.
While she was in Port Moresby, the CEO’s term was over and another person took over. She completed the assignment, made sure all the payments were made and asked for a return ticket to Wewak.
She waited and there was no response, so she bought her own ticket and flew to Wewak only to find out that she did not have an office. Her computer went missing and her office door was locked. She wondered why her office was locked. She thought the new CEO would explain but he did not. She then applied for leave since she had been working for more than four years without leave.
The previous CEO had already approved her leave. She attached the signed approval with her application but the new CEO did not grant her leave. She waited and there was no response so she wrote to the CEO’s secretary and left. After eight weeks of break she resumed work.
“I could feel that I was not wanted around. Everyone kept ignoring me,” she said.
“I was just hanging around outside the office for one week and on the second week…well…I received a letter from the CEO. I was suspended without pay and was charged for taking unauthorised leave and insubordination.”
She was given seven weeks to respond to the letter which she did through a lawyer Francis Jacob. She then waited from February to May 2012 for her reinstatement but nothing happened and there was no response. In June she travelled to Port Moresby and lodged a complaint at the Public Service Commission. In 2013, PSC gave orders that the charges laid against her were null and void, she was to be reinstated and her salary to be reimbursed.
“I was glad that PSC understood my position and gave the orders so I waited for the orders to be followed.”
She waited and still there was no response from the Boram administration. She returned to Port Moresby and queried PSC if they had already notified Boram. PSC advised her that notice had already been given to the hospital and that was all PSC could do and it was up to her to take any further action. She also reported the matter to the Department of Personal Management which also supported her and gave specific instructions for her reinstatement but there was no response from the Boram administration.
Whilst she was in Port Moresby trying to fix the issue, she became financially handicapped.
“I tried to follow up on my case but since I was unemployed I was broke and had no bus fare to move around and fix the issue so I went looking for part time jobs,” she said.
She got a part time job with St Mary’s Hospital at 4-Mile. She used the little they paid her to keep on fighting for justice. In 2014, she heard that the Boram CEO’s term would end in November.
“I left Saint Mary’s and went to Wewak in November and made four appointments to see the new CEO…he turned them all down. He didn’t respond to all my letters and did not even attempt to address my problem. I would be happy and satisfied if he at least took the time to respond.”

God always has a way
Hasifangu was unemployed so she went back to her village Kumbuhun, in West Yangoru in 2015. She took part in helping with church activities in the village. Being a person of faith, she believed with very strong conviction that God would provide a way for her.
“I saw that there was no other way because I had exhausted all the administrative processes. The only way left was God.”
Her uncle, Ps Alois Lumbandi always encouraged her that there was nothing too hard for God who would still open a door for her.
“I believed that justice would be served and I would one day win the fight because I did nothing wrong in God’s eyes. We may sometimes forget about God but such problems happen to bring us closer to him. There’s always pain and tears before joy and laughter.”
She smiled and said, “When God opens a door, who are you to close it? If God is for you, who shall be against you?”
Recalled but demoted
and ignored: 2015
In March 2015, Marcella was recalled to Boram where she was told to work as a scrub nurse. Being a senior officer with several qualifications and vast experience, she felt as if she started grade one all over again.
“I had over 30 years of experience and was working in administrative roles and I was sent back to grade one. I was demoted but I remained committed to the job and did not complain.”
In 2016, Boram had a restructure and Marcella applied for six positions including her previous position of QAO and none of the positions was given to her. She worked as an unattached officer performing duties of a scrub nurse whilst all other employees were attached.

The legal battle: 2017 – 2018
In Dec ember 2016, Hasifangu again travelled to Port Moresby and saw John Napu, a lawyer who had experience in matters similar to hers. Napu took up her case and registered it at the Waigani National Court.
She struggled for five years to get her position back or simply to get an explanation for her demotion and termination but nothing was done about it. It was like travelling in a tunnel with no light at the end.
She didn’t give up. After exhausting all the required avenues, it was time to go to court! “I didn’t give up. I had to do everything I can to make sure justice is served and finally it was,” she said.
“I knew they were wrong, but I was patient. I went step by step and exhausted every other avenue before going to court, and I did it right.”
The court proceedings took two years (2017 to 2018). During that time she continued working as a scrub nurse and travelled to and from Port Moresby to attend the court whenever Napu called her.
“Napu attended to my case but whenever he needed me I always made time to come to Port Moresby. I obeyed every instruction given by Napu and was always faithful in paying him legal fees. My commitment in the matter and in providing sufficient information plus records and evidence as well as paying my lawyer made him to fight very hard for me and finally we won.”
On Feb 13 this year, Justice Les Gavara-Nanu handed down a decision and ordered for her to be reinstated as the QAO for Boram, her salary to be backdated and damages done to her to be paid in full.
“Pursuant to Section 190 to 192 of the Constitution, the PSC cannot be held down to the Public Services Management Act when making its rulings. It must freely exercise its powers. They should respect the PSC’s decision,” said Gavara-Nanu.
Napu welcomed the decision and said it was clearly laid out and would be a reference for lawyers and courts.
“The decision was laid out in the clearest terms and it would be a relevant reference for lawyers and courts. This case would set an example for others in similar situations to fight their battle rightfully and accordingly to receive justice,” he said.

Keeping records – Important source of evidence
A very vital factor of Hasifangu’s success in court was record keeping. Since the issue started in 2011, Marcella kept records of all her letters to the PSC, the DPM, the Health Department and the Boram CEO and administration.
She made sure to have two copies of each letter so that when she delivered a letter, she asked the receiver to sign or stamp her copy and she kept that in her file. She also kept copies of every response or order given by the PSC, DPM and the Health Department. In that way, she kept a full record of the administrative processes she had exhausted.
Hasifangu also kept records of her expenses in fighting the case throughout the seven-year ordeal. She kept all her airline tickets, all her receipts of inns, and every other necessary spending on the matter. Those records were used as evidence in court and would be used to claim part of the damages ordered by the court.

Advice to others in similar situations
Her advice to anyone caught in a similar situation:
Documentation is very important. Keep a good record of every step you take. Keep copies of letters, receipts, tickets, photos, and any other relevant documents.
Know your rights, details of your entitlements, standard procedures and protocols in your department and be able to identify right from wrong.
Understand channels of communication. Do not rush. Follow each step accordingly. The final resort is the court.
Be able to express your democratic rights, know what steps to take and which authorities to approach.
Know what to do and where to go within your organisation and if that fails, know where to go outside of your organisation. Public Service Commission (PSC) is very important, especially for public servants. Approach the PSC for help when every alternative in your department has been exhausted.
The court is the final resort. You will fight a winning battle if you have exhausted all the required alternative avenues, kept your records as evidence and chosen the courts as the final means to justice.

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