Belmopan, Tues. Oct. 26, 2021 — The Government of Belize introduced several bill amendments to restructure the Director of Health Services (DHS) post after Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño stated on record that the responsibilities of the DHS are too extensive for one person. After a full day of debating a slew of other matters, including two supplementary appropriation bills, the bill was introduced and immediately sparked a passionate response from the Opposition.
The move by GOB will essentially replace the Director of Health Services post, previously held by Dr. Marvin Manzanero, with two new posts: the Director of Public Health and Wellness and the Director of Hospital Services and Allied Health. To facilitate such a massive realignment of the various duties and powers assigned to the DHS post, there was a request in the House to amend a long list of bills, including the Medical Services and Institutions Bill, the Medical Practice Bill, the Antibiotics Bill, etc.
The first member of the Opposition to object to the restructuring of such a key role in the Ministry of Health was the area representative for the Mesopotamia division, Hon. Shyne Barrow, who expressed the Opposition’s concern over the GoB’s perceived mishandling of former Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero.
Hon. Patrick Faber also questioned the GoB’s rush to pass in the House twelve amendments relating to the DHS’ position and suggested that the Prime Minister’s motives were tainted with political vindictiveness and that he was targeting Manzanero — contrary to the claims of Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Michel Chebat, that the purpose of the shift in the department’s administration is to ensure the provision of adequate healthcare to the people of Belize after “thirteen years of abandonment” by the then UDP administration:
“Mr. Speaker, there is no abuse, as alleged by the Leader of the Opposition. What is intended here, Mr. Speaker, is to allow for the institutional reorganization at the Ministry of Health and Wellness which will lead to a more efficient and effective leadership and management of the healthcare system throughout the country,” Hon. Chebat said.
The Minister of Public Service, Hon. Henry Charles Usher, echoed a similar sentiment.
“This bill and the other amendments to the various legislations have nothing to do with one individual. It has everything to do with making the services of the Ministry of Health and Wellness more efficient and effective in serving the Belizean people. The Minister of Health and his team approached the Ministry of the Public Service and they have been working in conjunction with the job classification and compensation unit of the ministry and they recognize that there was an organizational structure that needed to be amended where one individual, the Director of Health Service, was responsible for signing a slew of documents having to do with hospitals, pharmaceuticals, medical professionals, infectious disease, international medical agencies etc. It was found that this created massive backlogs and bottlenecks. If the DHS didn’t sign or approve, there could be no forward movement. That is not an efficient way to run this most vital ministry. So, now with these amendments, you are creating 2 posts: Director of Health and Wellness, Director of Hospital Services, Allied Health with responsibilities as outlined by the Minister of Health and Wellness. Again, it has nothing to do with one individual. Everything to do with providing better service to the people of Belize,” he said.
Hon. Charles Usher also referenced the backlog of work left behind by Dr. Manzanero and attributed that “bottleneck” to the fact that critical medical documents could only be signed by the DHS, according to existing legislation. The Leader of the Opposition flatly refuted this, however.
“I have never heard such nonsense in my life. The Minister of Public Service just told us that the burden is so tremendous and the Office of the Director of Health Services that he needs help; this position alone has to sign documents. Where is he, Madam Speaker? He thinks that the Belizean people don’t know that for the last couple of months you have locked out the DHS out of his job? If this position is so important to assisting in the fight against Covid and the health crisis that we are going through, why have you punished Dr. Manza in the way that you have done? You all think that people are blind? Do you? You think people don’t know in this country that you have some kind of vendetta against Dr. Manza?” he remarked.
He went on to point out, “The Prime Minister in his own words say the man is not important. In his own words he blamed Dr. Manza for failing the nation and for causing the Covid deaths. I don’t know what world you live; everybody can tell that you are not being honest, and that is a part of the problem here. I listen as the Minister spoke highly about Dr. Manza, so when they ask the Prime Minister ‘so Dr. Manza will receive one of these directorships?’ Prime Minister plays like he doesn’t know anything and washes his hands of the situation. If what he said is true, then I expect the Minister of Health to get up promptly when he closes this debate to say that Dr. Manza will be one of those directors, but he is not going to do that, because according to your Prime Minister, I don’t know if you said it, in fact you have this ability to be rude and curt to the media. That’s what I gathered. The Prime Minister might be a little bit better, but he dodges the media as well, but he said that he blames Manza. This government has a very big vendetta against Marvin Manzanero. Take your personal, petty politics out of this ministry.”
In total, twelve bills relating to health and medical legislation were raised for amendment during Tuesday’s sitting, including the Public Health Amendment Bill and the Medical Services and Institutions Amendment Bill.