Senate Rejects Health Minister-Designate

By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy

The Liberian Senate has endorsed its committee on Health, Women and Children chaired by Grand Kru County Senator Peter Coleman’s recommendation to reject the confirmation of George Werner as Minister of Health.

In the committee’s report submitted and read in session yesterday, the committee informed plenary that Mr. Werner who is currently the Director General of the Civil Service Agency (CSA) does not have the requisite qualifications to assume the position of Liberia’s Minister of Health.

Following the reading of the committee’s report, there was a motion that votes be taken in a secret session so as to decide the fate of Mr. Werner in accordance with the standing rule of the Liberian Senate. Briefing reporters following the closed door votes taken, the President Pro-tempore said it was the committee’s decision.

Pro-Temp Gbezohngar Findley said due diligence was accorded Mr. Werner because a public hearing was conducted and the findings of the committee was submitted with recommendations and it was based upon the recommendation that the plenary acted.

The position of a Minister of Health is more administrative than professional and Mr. Werner being cognizant that he has no least knowledge in public health care and having sufficient knowledge about issues relating to the Ebola scare in the country told the Senate Health Committee that the health care workers’ problem is mainly administrative.

The committee reminded Mr. Werner during the hearing that as the problems increase at the Ministry of Health, it was now prudent that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appoints a medical doctor who will be able to understand the medical issues such as drugs and other medical materials that are being imported into the country in the midst of the Ebola outbreak, the collapse in health care delivery and health care workers’ salary and other discontentments.

Mr. Werner who is the first nominee to face confirmation hearing said the major problem of health care delivery in Liberia is the lack of system and that he cannot substitute the judgment of his boss for preferring him at this time, even though he admitted that the health system is broken down.

He said he has proven himself for the past three years while serving in President Sirleaf’s administration and is capable of rebuilding the system noting that the health care problems can be resolved when the administration puts in place systems and make sure that the coordination process is made transparent and accountable.

Mr. Werner told the Senate Committee that he has the right temperament to take care of the health workers’ issues and that it was because of the strategy he used in deriving to reform a mechanism that had exhibited at the CSA which compelled the USAID to give budgetary support to government because of his ability to institute a significant payroll reform.

Health Minister-designate Werner said there is already a robust plan to train about 30, 000 Liberians while at the CSA he had commenced contracting medical practitioners from Harvard and Columbia Universities.

However, it seems as if the Senate has more disenchantment with Mr. Werner than just saying he lacks the requisite qualification to assume the position of a Health Minister because weeks ago, that same plenary held him in contempt for apparently using the word ‘irrational’ when he explained to the senators the reasons for his request to lay off some civil servants in the country as CSA Director General.

It is also within the corridors of the Liberian Senate that the senators’ fear might be that Mr. Werner was the same person who advised the then Minister of Health Walter Gwenigale not to reinstate the two aggrieved health workers and that he is already carrying a scheme to downsize civil servants in the midst of the Ebola scare that is creating economic hardship.

While others believed that he lied under oath when he appeared before the Senate committee and said he did not threaten to go to the supreme Court following the contempt action of the Liberian Senate even though the committee members also reminded him that they were aware that he had to down play his action due to the President of the Senate and Vice President Joseph Boakai’s intervention.

Meanwhile, Werner is the first among recent nominees designated to join President Sirleaf’s finishing team to be rejected unanimously by the Liberian Senate for confirmation.Others who appeared yesterday for confirmation hearings were Bushuben Kieta, Deputy Minister-designate, for Administration and Insurance at the Transport Ministry, Anthony Nimely, Deputy Minister-designate for Planning, Research and Development at the Ministry of Education and Dr. Elizabeth Davis- Russell Education Minister-designate, Ministry of Education.