Just before seven o’clock last night the Senate began its debate on the amendments to the Public Health Act that seeks to rid the Ministry of Health of a Director of Health Services (DHS) post. There were ten Bills brought to the Senate on the issue surrounding the DHS matter ranging from the Dentists Bill to the Quarantine Bill. The amendments were simple as the wording, “Director of Health Services” was being changed to either the Director of Public Health and Wellness or the Director of Hospital Services and Allied Health. The change comes after the Briceno administration decided to split the post of DHS into two parts. The common feel on these amendments, however, is that the government is doing all this to merely rid the ministry of Dr Marvin Manzanero. This was the sentiment expressed by several senators late yesterday evening including Senators Darrell Bradley and Osmany Salas.
Senator Darrell Braldey: “This is an attack upon a very diligent an honorable member of the Public Service and when that attack happens it is an attack on all public servants and it is an attack on the institution that is set up in our constitution to be the implementers of governmental decisions. And for us to have true accountability that institution has to be independent, autonomous and free from these types of interference.”
Senator Osmany Salas: “This whole discussion Madam President if this whole situation had been handled differently could have gone another way. But Madam President I think that any fair minded person will agree that this whole situation with the DHS and this slew of legislation has been horribly mishandled. I think any fair minded person will agree. Look I also have to say and in consultation with experts in the health field – senior nurses, retired doctors, and others because I have reached out to several people – there are major problems with leadership issues in the health sector. I have spoken to some good friends of mine that work at the Northern Regional Hospital and they are very concerned about the lack of leadership. They are very concerned that things could fall apart very easily. Now I think we will all agree that the Director of Health Services position has been a heavyweight position. I did not realize how heavyweight it has been or top heavy with all these responsibilities under one person and if this had been handled differently we could have a sober discussion about what we need to improve the situation. Now I have to agree with my colleagues who have spoken before me that you know we can’t take this any other way but to see this as an attempt to legally remove the current DHS and in effect bypassing the constitutional appointed role of the Public Service Commission that has refused to remove him because there has not been sufficient grounds to remove him through that process. It’s unfortunate Madam President that it’s being handled this way. It could very well be that there has been too much authority on one person, we have to look at separation of duties etc but not this way. Not this way Madam President. It has been terribly mishandled and I really would not to be part of a decision where we approve a slew of bills to get rid of one person and bypass the constitutionally appointed functions of the Public Services Commission.”
As Senator for the private sector, Kevin Herrera rose to give his views on the matter, the Senator for Government Business, Eamon Courtenay brought the debate to an abrupt stop, asking the President of the Senate to pose the question. The President complied and with that the debate was over; well, almost over. The Senator for the unions, Luke Martinez rose calling for a division; which meant that each Senator would vote on the matter. There was, however, a hiccup in that attempt as all the Bills were presented as one package which meant that voting against it would mean that the union would not have representation on the KHMHA Board which was a key move for the unions. Here is how the entire situation unfolded last night.
In the end, six of the PUP Senators voted in favour; four voted against and three abstained. And with all that back and forth, Belize no longer has a Director of Health Services. Essentially, it means that Dr Marvin Manzanero no longer has a role to play in the public sector. Earlier this month Prime Minister John Briceno told Love News that Health Minister, Michel Chebat was in discussion with Dr Manzanero in finalizing an exit package. Up to yesterday, however, our newsroom was told that no such discussion had begun. We will keep following this matter.