Gwenigale Vs. Dismissed Health Workers’ Leaders: Is There Any Way Out?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

One of the interesting issues that continue to generate public attention and form major headlines in the media is that which surrounds the reinstatement of two leaders of the Health Workers Association of Liberia. The two leaders, Joseph Tamba, president and secretary general, George Williams were dismissed by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare several months ago in the wake of strike action by health workers over better salaries and incentives. The two people have been accused of inciting workers.

In the wake of the strike action which paralyzed health activities nationwide, the Liberian Senate, unsurprisingly, in keeping with its “Oversight Responsibility’, intervened to find an amicable solution to the crisis. At the end of the Senate’s intervention, it was reported that the dismissed health workers leaders be reinstated. Whether this was a commitment made by the Minister, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, or not, it is widely believed that the Senate’s intervention would see the two officials back to work.

However, since then, the Ministry has not reinstated the two workers, until recently when the issues resurfaced when health workers, especially those associated with the fight against Ebola staged a “go-slow’ action in demand of better salaries and incentives. During the recent go-slow action, it was said that one of the demands of the health workers was the reinstatement of their two dismissed leaders.

But the Minister who appeared on October 13 at the regular Ebola Press Conference at the Ministry of Information, maintained that if anyone is on strike because of the two dismissed health workers, leaders to be reinstated, might as well stay at home, as these dismissed leaders would NEVER be reinstated. In his words he unflinchingly said, “Those dismissed health workers’ leadership will never be reinstated. They will not come back to work thus if anyone is striking to have them reinstated, the striking health workers must just stay home.”

The stance of the Minister has now caused a bad blood between him and the Liberian Senate, causing that body to cite him recently. During the hearing, Dr. Gwenigale reiterated his stance that those dismissed workers would not be reinstated, describing them as being very dangerous.He said he has acted and his boss (The President) has endorsed his action. However, some of the Senators saw his stance as an act of arrogance. The Minister was again scheduled to reappear before that body yesterday, but cited health reasons for his inability to face that august body.

Accordingly, the hearing has now been rescheduled for next Tuesday at which time Minister Gwenigale is instructed to appear along with a health certificate from a recognized healthcare worker. At yesterday’s plenary session, Senators had diverse views upon receiving of the Health Minister’s letter requesting rescheduling of reappearance.

Senator Mabutu Nyenpan proffered a motion that the body allows the Minister to appear next Tuesday to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for accusing that august body of inciting health workers to protest even though Minister Gwenigale had earlier told the Senate Committee on Health that the request of reinstating the dismissed health workers was dangerous to the health sector and had served as an incitement.

Other senators like Joseph Nagbe, Sumo Kupee and Geraldine Doe Sheriff made several amendments to modify or squash the motion among which was that Minister Gwenigale be left alone because to reschedule his appearance will be like a waste of time for that body since in his communication he said clearly that “After my appearance before the Senate last Thursday, my blood pressure went up and is still up with mild headache. Appearing before you again tomorrow will further increase my pressure.”

The senators said to continue to request the appearance of the Health Minister is a fruitless effort because his blood pressure will always be high but Bomi County Junior Senator, Sando Johnson argued that their argument will serve as a deterrent for the Health Minister to disrespect that body.

While this matter is pending before the Senate, I wish to join the public discussion on the matter. Initially, when the Minister used the word “NEVER,” I said it was too strong especially in the conflict situation, where negotiations are possible. In that article, entitled: “I thought “NEVER” Belongs To God,’ in which I pleaded with the Minister to see reasons based on the plethora of appeals for those dismissed leaders to be reconsidered.

However, since the Minister is still maintaining his stance against these dismissed leaders, as the Chief Administrator of the Ministry, something that is in his purview, especially so when the Minister said that his boss has endorsed his action, I rest my case on that aspect of the case.Howbeit, let me thank the Liberian Senate and other lawmakers for their interest in the matter. But fort some of us to insist that the dismissed workers be reinstated, would send a bad signal to the issue of the ‘Separation of Powers,’ and more importantly, by doing so, would be a bad precedent.

Once again, I share the concern for them to go back to work, but since the man responsible is maintaining his stance, and more so that his action has been approved by his boss, let sleeping dog lie. As for the contempt hanging over him, I believe that it is not on the issue of urging him to reinstate the dismissed workers; perhaps, it’s on different matter.

Notwithstanding, all is not lost. There is still remedy at law. If the dismissed leaders feel that the Minister or Ministry’s action was illegal or unlawful, then, they have to proceed to the proper judicial forum. Since I am not their lawyer, it is not my duty to advise which one of the judicial forums is appropriate for this. If they are civil servants, there is a judicial forum, whether it is quasi or not; if they are above such status, there is still a forum for redress, which must be pursued.

As we have repeatedly said that this is a country of laws and not men, therefore, we must make use of the appropriate legal avenues. Laws are made, too, to protect us and also to ensure that people get justice, whenever they observe injustice. This is why the Constitution says that all of us are ‘equal before the law.” And so if anyone feels hurt or unjustly treated, the best option to look to is the judicial forum. Even during this state of emergency, there is still room for redress.

I should not be misconstrued as suggesting that the Ministry is right or wrong, but still insist on resorting to the proper forum.This is why this kind of forum is usually referred to as the “last resort,” meaning that if all other avenues fail, the judicial forum is the best alternative. Since the Minister is unwavering about not reinstating these two workers, the best way out is the judicial forum. I Rest My Case.