Yesterday we told you of an online article from New Zealand that alluded to corruption in the health sector in Belize. The publication made an update to their post in which it was stated, “Belize is awash with bribery, fraud and profiteering, with everyone from government officials to the local mafia on the take.” After digging more into this story, we found out that these instances of bribery have been under investigation since 2016. No one, however, has been held accountable for the cases of alleged bribery. Nancy Marin is the Executive Director for Medical Elective Belize. Marin has been one of several community-based organizations that work with universities and interns abroad. She spoke to Love News today to tell her story on her business has been affected by the corruption.
Nancy Marin, Executive Director, Medical Electives Belize: “You know this thing came to my attention about two years ago and I have been working with Dr.Figueroa when he was CEO to try to cut this but it’s more than just that. The reason this has been allowed to happen is because students have been booking directly with doctors and I say that with no reservation because it has affected our business and it has affected our country, now we are getting a black eye, when I brought this problem up two years ago to Dr.Figueroa. When I brought it up to Dr.Figueroa apparently he had already known about these happenings and more than that, students have been paying monies to doctors for placement, they call it placement fees to certain doctors and this is all around the country, it’s not just in San Ignacio it’s all around the country and it’s more rampant in Belmopan and in San Pedro. Now I’m the only company in the country that has tried to correct the corruption and you can verify that with Dr.Figueroa and Dr.Manzanero, Dr.Manzanero and Dr. Figueroa I must say have been fighting this and they have really been trying to clean up Ministry of Health. I don’t know about this new CEO because he has refused to talk to me but I can vouch that Dr.Manzanero and Dr.Figueroa has been fighting it. The other two doctors that we’ve gotten stellar reports on is Dr.Cuellar and Dr.Rivas, they have been really good and really clean in this whole process. We have not been operating in months because of a simple issue that- I present an MOU last year to Dr.Figueroa , they reviewed it, it was approved by Dr.Figueroa and I believe it was approved by Dr.Manzanero but the week that Dr.Figueroa was to sign it was the week that he was removed and Dr.Gough has come in and since Dr.Gough has been the CEO we have not been able to book a student, not because we’re blocked but because I cannot safely proceed without an MOU, I need my MOU signed so that we can continue to work.”
Marin went on to say that prior to Dr Ramon Figueroa being abruptly removed from the ministry of Health, action was being taken to address the situation.
Nancy Marin, Executive Director, Medical Electives Belize: “As far as I know when Dr.Figueroa was there he put a stop to all the international companies that were illegally operating in Belize directly with the doctors, he had put a stop but I can tell you that this week there has been students around the country in hospitals and nobody knows who placed them because they definitely is not me, I have not been placing anybody for months. For months I have not been accepting students. We have been sending our students to Peru and Costa Rica because- well we’ve recommended that they go to those two places where we know the people in the Ministry of Health in those places because I have not been signed my MOU and I don’t want to be involved in that corruption to be paying people to place my students.”
Doctor Marvin Manzanero, the Director of Health Services responded to the allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Health. According to Manzanero, his office has been investigating the matter since it first arose three years ago. He stated that they are in the process of restructuring the internship program, therefore they are not facilitating any interns at the moment.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “I think the first time my desk was made aware in 2016 is when medical students, I can’t recall if it was from Australia or New Zealand, had come to my desk to sign them a letter stating that they had done an internship in Belize. I wasn’t sure what that was about and I couldn’t sign anything because my desk wasn’t fully aware. We did start a canvassing of facilities and we realized that there had been medical students who had been coming to San Ignacio primarily, Belmopan and San Pedro, primarily people from Germany, the UK, New Zealand and Australia- I can’t recall from any other country. But because we didn’t have a structure in place when we reviewed that in 2016 my note three year ago to the management teams had been that we were no longer going to be accepting any medical student to come and do medical electives in Belize until there was a proper structure in place which we didn’t have and we still don’t have in our public health system. Back in 2016 I wasn’t so sure that it was a bribery situation, the reason why we clamped it down was because my desk couldn’t possibly sign on to documents that we had not structured with anybody and there was a change in management, most of the region management were changing as well so I don’t know that there had been an internal mechanism established somewhere. So what we did as a result of that is we have gone on to tell people if you want to do something you must do an MOU, your university with our specific school and then we take it from there. As far as I know there is only one agency down in Cayo who has gone through that process of signing an MOU with us and one University.”
Reporter: Legally right now there should not be any interns at the hospital.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “There should not be any because I have been asked because I think people still might be aware that people still come in and do rotations or whatever, if we don’t have an agreement we are not really validating any medical elective now.”
Reporter: What would happen if the Ministry of Health would get wind that there were interns right now at the KHMH, would you have to put a stop to that ?
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “I wouldn’t be responsible for KHMH, they have their own authority and their own board so I wouldn’t be able to tell you about that.”
Doctor Manzanero stated that a university in Chetumal and one in Guatemala have approached MOH to sign MOU’s for nursing students to intern, but no medical students.