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Business Senator votes conscience on D.H.S. replacement Bills

The Business Community Senator Hon. Kevin Herrera, who was the sole social partner senator to vote against the amalgam of health-sector-related Bills aimed at replacing the Director of Health Services (DHS) and amending the KHMH Board, told The Reporter today that he had to vote his conscience.

“I felt that it was wrong in terms of how they handled the current Director of Health Services (DHS) and that the motivation behind the amendments was basically to get rid of Dr. Manzanero,” Herrera explained. “I think my core issue is that they chose to use the National Assembly in that manner. Using the House for what appears to be a personal matter.”

Herrera ended up being the only social-partner “no” vote during a division called by the unions’ senate representative Luke Martinez, who substituted on Thursday for Senator Elena Smith.

Martinez’s efforts to separate the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital Authority (Amendment) Bill 2021 (“KHMHA Bill”) from the raft of other health-sector-reform Bills (“Reform Bills”) failed, as Leader of Government Business Senator Eamon Courtenay adamantly objected on the grounds that such a request for disaggregation came too late.

Martinez, calling for the division, said, “Madam President, in accordance with section 47 of the Standard Orders, I would like to ask for a division on the Bills except for the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital Authority (Amendment) Bill 2021.”

The union representative was, however, quickly interrupted by Courtenay, who, with the leave of the Senate President, objected to Martinez’s request.

“At the very beginning I said, ‘With your [Senate President] permission and the indulgence of this honorable Senate, I introduce the following Bills, all at once,” Courtenay underscored in his objection. “They were taking as a package, they were debated as a package, the question has been put as a package, and the vote has been taken as a package. It is not open to any senator now to disaggregate the package of Bills. … if the senator had objected at the very beginning then we would have had to have taken a decision as to whether or not they would have been separated. It cannot be done at this stage.”

After a brief set of exchanges, the division was ultimately taken in aggregate. Given the fact that the KHMHA Bill was tied in with the Reform Bills, the union representative abstained on the division that he himself had called. This unexpected move likely stemmed from the fact that the KHMHA Bill would add a union representative to the KHMH Authority, a change that the unions support.

The senate representative for the Belize Network of NGOs and the senate representative for the Council of Churches also chose to abstain on the matter, despite having expressed their concerns with the Reform Bills.

On the vote, Senator Herrera opined, “That lumping together of the Bills, in my view, was strategically done to make it difficult for the unions to vote against the other health-related bills.”

Most observers hold the view that the multiple Bills aimed at replacing the post of the DHS with two new offices is part of a move to circumvent Dr. Marvin Manzanero, the current DHS with whom the present administration have unsuccessfully tried to remove from the position.

Speaking to the treatment of Dr. Manzanero, Herrera told The Reporter: “He was on the frontline during the darkest days of this pandemic. I say this, because in those days there was very little known about COVID. While we were sheltering in our houses, he was on the frontlines. I think, therefore, it came over very badly in the way it was put. We also accept that the Government can change its policy… our issue was the motivation and the way it was being done.”

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