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APSSM President: ‘Chebat out of line’

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

The Minister of Health and Wellness (MOHW) is out of line in the way he sought to curtail the powers of the ministry’s CEO, Association of Public Sector Senior Managers (APSSM)’s President Sharon Frazer told the Reporter this week.

Speaking to the media reports that the minister, Hon. Michel Chebat, had written to instruct CEO Deysi Mendez that she could no longer make out any purchase orders, invoices, contracts, agreements, or payments in excess of $3500 without his consent, Frazer said, “That is not the way things are done and that in fact, Chebat was way out of line.”

The Senior Magistrate underscored the point Chebat’s actions of restricting what she could have done was against the public service regulations.

Frazer explained that no minister has the authority to tie the hands of their accounting officer once they are performing their duties based on the financial regulations. There are guiding principles and rules that you operate under as an accounting officer. She further explained that at the start of every financial year, the Financial Secretary sends out a list of duties and responsibilities of an accounting officer.

As a result, the only person who has some authority as it relates to the finance and accounting officer would in fact be the Financial Secretary. “No minister has that authority,” Frazer stressed. “Although he did say that he did not have the authority but even what he said, thereafter, would not have been in keeping with the public service regulations and the financial order and that is the problem.”

In fact, while Frazer indicated that she could not offer an extensive comment on the matter, she does find it very concerning that in the midst of a pandemic “personality differences” would be at play within one of the most important ministries at this time. Frazer called it an unfortunate situation and one that is putting the entire ministry and by extension the health and wellness of Belizeans in jeopardy. She added that because the CEO is a crucial part of the ministry she hopes that a solution could be worked out as quickly as possible since something of this magnitude could prove to be detrimental to the ministry.

Frazer concluded that the emerging problems about persons not seeing “eye to eye” in any particular ministry seem to rise from the fact that they have brought in people who do not understood how the public sector operates.

“They do not have a clue of how the public service works, a clue of the public service regulations, who don’t know how the public sector operates,” Frazer explained. “We are unique in that sense and they want to come and treat it as they do in the private sector. So that is why they are getting resistance from career public officers who can’t accomplish what it is some of the ministers request because it goes against the structure that is already in place.”

On Wednesday, November 24th, during his appearance on the Sun Up At 7 Talk Show, Prime Minister John Briceño confirmed that Mendez was leaving the ministry and that her replacement will be named shortly. “It is unfortunate. … Sometimes … you just don’t get along for whatever or for various reasons. This is one case where the relationship between the CEO and the Minister has not been the best and so what has been decided, well you know, that she is leaving the ministry.”

While it has not been made official as yet, the best information to the Reporter is that Friday will be Mendez’s last day on the job. While we attempted to get a comment from her about her abrupt departure, she declined to comment. Consequently, it is unknown whether she will be leaving for good or will simply be placed in another department.

Reports to our newsroom also indicate that while the relationship between the minister and his CEO has not been the best over the past few weeks, it further deteriorated two weeks ago when the minister sought to place limits on the CEO.

 When asked about his decision to strip his CEO of her authority as the senior accounting officer for his ministry, Chebat maintained that he was not limiting Mendez or placing a chokehold on her, but rather that he was ensuring that the resources at the ministry are being funneled in the right direction. According to Chebat, because things are moving too quickly with the pandemic, he saw the need to take a step back and assess what is occurring, but that he was in no way preventing Mendez from carrying out her duties since that was not within his authority.

Of note is that this is not the first time that “personality difference” has been at the center of contentions within the various departments. Earlier this month, Dr. Lesbia Guerra abruptly departed the Ministry of Natural Resources due to contentions within that ministry. Earlier this year the former Governor of the Central Bank Gustavo Manuel Vasquez had also been terminated from his post because he could not see eye to eye with the board of directors.

There is also the saga with Dr. Marvin Manzanero, and a recently as two weeks ago Dr. Fernando Cuellar had resigned from the KHMH Board of Governors.

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