BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 20, 2022– While being interviewed by reporters yesterday, Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño made public comments on the recent reshuffling of portfolios in the Cabinet, which included the transfer of Minister Michel Chebat from the Ministry of Health and Wellness to the Public Utilities Ministry and the appointment of junior Minister Kevin Bernard to the Health Minister post. The Prime Minister rejected the suggestion that the transfer of Chebat—which is being seen by many members of the public as a demotion—was an expression of disapproval of that minister. Instead, he insisted that he made the decision to move him from the Health Ministry in order to better align the skills of his ministers with the needs in the various ministries—with Chebat’s legal background being seen as potentially useful in the Ministry of Public Utilities, while Hon. Bernard’s abilities as a “team builder” were seen by the PM as exactly what is needed in the Health Ministry. The aim, said Hon. Briceño, is to rebuild the team at the Health Ministry.
He explained, “… at the Ministry of Health we now have to do more team-building and one of the best in team building is Minister Bernard. He has shown in the Orange Walk Town Council, again as the mayor back in 2012, picking up a town council that was badly managed by the UDP. So, I felt that he would be the right person to go in and to work and to fix, and to try to build a team that needs to be done and to take the Ministry of Health to the next level.”
In reference to Chebat and his reportedly poor relationship with the technical staff inside the Ministry, Hon. Briceño said, “I imagine when you don’t have time to develop a relationship you step on people’s toes and so he really had to grab that Ministry and get it going and put it in the right direction.” He then went on to state, in regard to Chebat’s new role as Public Utilities and Logistics Minister, “… at the present moment, I believe I need somebody with a legal mind to manage the Public Utilities and Logistics Ministry, because of the challenges we are having right now with the issue of raising rates in electricity, proposed rates that the PUC is presenting, the issues that we might have in BEL, BTL, BWS, the issues of energy, what we are going to do about energy needs in the years to come. As it is right now, our energy consumption is almost at 2019 level. So there is a huge growth, so we need to start thinking about what it is that we are going to do. We also have challenges in the area of logistics with the ports, so I felt that maybe it is time now to move him from there and put him where we can use his legal mind.”
Minister Bernard will now be addressing shortfalls within the Health Ministry—foremost of which is the filling of key vacant posts. It was announced this week that a new CEO, Dr. Julio Sabido, had been appointed to assist Hon. Bernard in managing the ministry. Hon. Briceño noted that Sabido has been working inside the Ministry for a least 10 years and that he knows the ins and outs of its operations, technically and managerially. However, when questioned by one local journalist about reports that are circulating that Sabido is an ally of Chebat and that his relationship with two past Deputy Directors of Health Services was contentious, the PM said that he could not confirm any such reports.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. If he has any contention with other members of the Ministry, maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, and this has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Chebat. It was simply that here we have a new Minister that will go into one of the largest Ministries, a ministry when we are still in a pandemic, that indeed he would not have time, he has to start from day one, almost like start running as soon as he gets in, so we felt that it’s best if we can get somebody from within the Ministry, and since Sabido was there. And yes, he was close to Minister Chebat. That has given him a first-hand view, and overlook of what needs to be done in the Ministry, so we felt that CEO Sabido would be a good fit,” Prime Minister Briceño said.
While the CEO position has been filled, three new director posts that were created to replace the Director of Health Services post which was held by Dr. Marvin Manzanero are still vacant inside the Ministry of Health and Wellness: a Director of Hospital Services and Allied Health post, as well as the Director of Public Health and Wellness, and the Director of International Health Relations posts. It has been reported that Dr. Marvin Manzanero, who had been sidelined during Minister Chebat’s tenure, had a “cordial” meeting this week with the new Health Minister, Hon. Bernard, and there are reports that he has been offered a senior-level post within the Ministry—specifically the Director of International Relations position.
This is something that PM Briceño appeared to confirm when he was asked about it by a local reporter. Hon. Briceño claimed that Dr. Manzanero had been offered the Director of International Relations post previously and had refused it. He then went on to suggest that the skills of the doctor, whom he had described as a “disaster” in managing the country’s response to the pandemic, would be well-suited for the international relations post.
“I think you have heard what Minister Bernard said, that he has met with Dr. Manzanero and he has offered him to stay if he wishes to work with him under his leadership. I believed that I said that this morning, and I repeat that there are certain skills that Dr. Manzanero has. I just don’t think he was the right person for the DHS position. But where they want to put him, I think it is something in cooperation, it is a position that has already been offered to him from earlier in our administration, and for one reason or the other they could not see eye to eye with the former Minister. Kevin believes that he can work with him and have him become a part of his team, and if that is the wishes of the Minister, then we need to support it,” Prime Minister Briceño said.