LEADERSHIP STRUGGLE AND TURMOIL AT HEALTH

 The prevailing toxic and unstable leadership at the Ministry of Health (MOH) never ceases to amaze ordinary citizens who simply want to receive basic, efficient, effective and reliable health care.

We can’t afford to keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results. Einstein’s already given the verdict, this is ‘Insanity’.

Four Headline news items in October and one this week make the MOH the most widely ‘negatively-publicised’ Ministry in the entire government as 2019 draws to a conclusion. ‘Health Directors Demoted’ (12/10/2019), “Transfer of Directors Unnecessary” (21/10/2019), “Health Director’s Appointment Quashed” (24/10/2019), “PSC Chair Says Dr Leodoro ‘Wrong’” (29/10/2019), “Director Appointments Under Scrutiny” (04/11/2019).

Prior to all these, the DG was suspended. That’s not all. I share a bit of my own experience at MOH below.

Returned home in mid-2012 fully prepared to implement public policy knowledge after 2.5 years of grueling postgraduate studies. I applied for Health DG post when a series of DG posts were advertised toward the end of the year. Close friends found this weird given my non-health background, and besides, I was from investment/ industry/private sector world. So why ‘Health’? A number of reasons, but primarily I wanted to do something different and challenging, for a change. First day at MOH on 26th Nov 2012. Usual introductory meetings/ briefings, readings, then intensive work.

I survived only 8 months at the MOH. A few months into the job, I got suspended over nothing, and Mark O’Brien at 96 Buzz FM hosted an interview with me over my fresh suspension that lunchtime. Funny part of the suspension was, the Minister was so desperate to suspend me that he came and threatened me at home with his illegal letter at around 5:30am.

Being unsuccessful in the first attempt that morning, he went away and brought back 2 police officers around lunchtime – as if I had committed a crime. Strange character. I got reinstated after 2 weeks of illegal suspension; waste of valuable time. Unfortunately the Minister also packed his bags and left office not long after that due to a change in Government.

New Minister arrives. He was my hero and former Minister at Trade/Investment some years back. I respected and served him wholeheartedly. But now he had excess baggage with him – a ‘Doctor saviour’ who apparently had saved the Minister’s life sometime before from a ‘near-death’ experience. One would think that is what doctors are trained and paid to do – help save lives. But this particular case was interestingly different. The Minister neede to reciprocate. It appears this particular doctor had decided to put his training and high calling as a surgeon aside and be an administrator.

He left his assigned work station at the NDH and spent some 3 months sitting around in the Minister’s Cabinet. We paid for his accommodation and daily allowances on top of his undisturbed full salary as a medical doctor for delivering nothing up north the whole 3 months or more that he was in Vila.

The Minister pressurized the Prime Minister to remove the legally appointed DG, possibly so that his ‘doctor savior’ could become DG. The PM called me a couple of times and alerted me of this. Then came time to travel to the annual WHO Assembly in Geneva in May 2013, a meeting which normally lasts at least 3 weeks.

The Minister gathered his team of ‘health pillars’ (doctors!) as he called them, including this ambitious doctor friend of his and they departed. The team of health professionals arrived Sydney and started off on the booze party. They sent instructions over for more money, we ended up spending about VT7 million on this touristic bonanza. They returned to Port Vila after the ‘Geneva’ trip with nothing.

Immediately after the Geneva trip, the Minister arranged a meeting at The Melanesian Hotel. DG was to Chair the meeting. I was informed about it only on the Friday morning of the meeting. So I went, not knowing what the agenda was all about. Walked into the meeting room and everybody was already comfortably seated inside – Minister, his doctor friend and his other Political Advisors (PAs). I took my seat. First item on the agenda, ‘Advertisement of the Post of DG Health’. I felt a lump and dryness in my throat over this unbelieveable humiliation, but put on a brave and courageous face and completed chairing the meeting. In his usually-relaxed, deep and sneaky voice, the Minister justified the need to advertise the position. I acknowledged his candid views. Meeting lasted for an hour, then I left.

They must have smiled at their assumed victory. Little did they foresee king Nebuchadnezzar eating grass a few years later.

The Minister pressured the PM as a State Minister, and when this fell through, he threatened the PM with his political party; ‘if you don’t remove the DG, I will break this government up’, as I was told by the PM before I left office. End of that Friday before retreating home for the weekend after the hellish experience, I wrote a long email to the Prime Minister relating the account of how I was humiliated by chairing a meeting deciding my own dismissal from the MOH. I told him Health had become too toxic an environment to work in, so I was ready to move. I immeditely got transferred to MALFFB.

By the way, the very same ‘doctor savior’ who became Acting DG Health after I left is the very same guy who took Director Tamata and the PSC to court recently.

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