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Health Minister and Opposition Leader Spar

In the Ministers’ questions segment of today’s sitting of the House of Representatives, Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow inquired whether a contract to provide NHI services was awarded to Northern Medical even though the Chairman of NHI in this case is a shareholder in the company. More than that, Barrow questioned whether the services, which are being provided at the polyclinic in Chunnox Village, is costing taxpayers’ money. Minister of Health Kevin Bernard confirmed that this was the case. 

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:In answering the member for Mesopotamia, let me point out what seems to be a chronic, endemic, lack of knowledge and ignorance on his part. Your question, member, should have been directed to the Minister of Finance, because NHI comes under the Ministry of Finance. But member, it’s a wonder you’ve reached this far. Every contribution you make reminds us that you are your father’s…”

Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “There’s a point of order.”

Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition:A point of order, Madam Speaker. Members should not insult other members, right? We’re all adults. I know he looks like he’s still in junior high, but we’re all adults.”

Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “Members! One second, member. We cannot request members not to insult and use the opportunity to insult. That will not be tolerated. This Friday will not be a Friday where we’re going to go through this again. 

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:You see? He wants to take me down this road, but maybe it was he who should have found out if he went to junior high. But, let me remind…”

Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “Members, I’m going to ask you to take that back.”

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:I’ll take that back.”

Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “Thank you.”

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:But, Madam Speaker, every contribution the member makes reminds us that he is his father’s son, all glitter and no substance. But, I will answer the question, Mr. Member for Mesopotamia, because this side of the gallery believes in educating our people, and you’re a prime candidate to be schooled.”

Minister Bernard further told Barrow that the number of persons who are benefiting from the NHI expansion has increased. 

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:When it comes to that particular contract to Northern Medical Plaza to provide NHI services at the Chunox Polyclinic, let me once again point to your lack of knowledge and propensity to waste the people’s valuable time. There is in fact opposition representation on the National Health Insurance policy committee, and that UDP representative Dr. Angel Campos, who is well acquainted with how NHI works, because he was Minister of State in the Ministry of Health, wholeheartedly endorsed the selection of Northern Medical Plaza. Because a member of the National Health Insurance committee has interest in Northern Medical Plaza, he was barred completely from the selection process, conducted without his participation and in his absence. NHI, Madam Speaker, is not a political tool. When the neediest of Belizeans show up to receive a service they cannot otherwise afford, they are not asked if they support the red or the blue. Shame on the Member of Mesop for trying to smear NHI with a political brush. But, you see? The Member for Mesop, he is fortunate in that he has options if he ever needs medical care. He can beg daddy Dean, or he can go begging Fat Joe for bags of money. Many of us, Belizeans, are not that fortunate. So, please, leave NHI alone, Member. Secondly, Madam Speaker, under the UDP, I want you to listen to this, Member. Under the UDP, that clinic was being paid $15,000.00 a month for a duration of four years, and it did not even have a doctor. In fact, it only had 800 registered members under the UDP. Under this PUP administration, Member for Mesop, and for the same exact money, it now almost has 3000 registered members in the two months it has been re-opened. Did you hear that? I need to check, because ever since you were slapped in the face, you seem a little slow.”

Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “Member! Member!. Minister of Health and Wellness, I’m gonna ask for…”

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:Madam Speaker, he asked for that.”

Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “I’m gonna ask you to take it back, Member.”

Kevin Bernard, Minister of Health and Wellness:They give and take back. I will take it back. I know how you do it. The next thing we’ll know, we’ll be seeing you on some U.S. talk show claiming that you are single handedly providing healthcare to your people. But, it is not you, Member, and it is certainly not the UDP. Under the UDP, there was no expansion of NHI. None. Absolutely none. So, make sure you get that story right the next time you visit the U.S. talk shows. But, Member from Mesopotamia, let me end by saying this, you love to boast about Grammy’s and records. Let me tell you something you should have been told long ago, nobody cares. In this House, all that matters is your record of service, and your competence to serve, and in both, you have been found lacking. So, wheel and come again.

However, the Leader of the Opposition told the media after the sitting today to explain why he has doubts about the arrangement. 

Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition: “He had concerns because unlike what the minister said there was no vote. He said there was no vote. There was a committee that returned the results of a tendering process that included a private entity which the chairman of NHI sits on. That’s a conflict of interest. Furthermore when you say it is a harmless transaction it is not. Normally in these public/private partnerships the private entity is not given government infrastructure to operate. Usually they have to rent or build their own facilities and they may be advanced some of the monies as part of the contract in order to do that but this is the first time that PPP is being housed by government infrastructure and then you have to say is that corruption ? Because if it were not that the chairman sat as a shareholder on this private entity would they be given that type of consideration ? If it were not that the chairman had shares in this private entity would they have won the bid? These are questions that the Belizean people need to know and I got the information from the member on NHI because he was not satisfied. He said he raised the question and he was balked at. So I bring it to the honorable House so that the minister can verify. I don’t want to accuse, I don’t want to put out a press release and call a press conference and holler corruption so I did it the prudent way which is to give him the opportunity to answer before the country not just before me. I believe the member Doctor Angel Campos that sits on the committee that he did not vote, I believe that. Furthermore to make it as if it is normal that a PPP would be housed in government infrastructure is absolutely not true it is unprecedented so then that begs the question why is this type of consideration being given in this first time ever to a private/public partnership.”