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UDP calls for Health Minister to resign

The Minister of Health and Wellness Hon. Michel Chebat has mismanaged the COVID-19 crisis and should resign, asserted United Democratic Party (UDP) Leader Hon. Patrick Faber in a press conference at UDP headquarters in Belize City on Tuesday morning, November 16.

Faber also accused the Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño of a conflict of interest and of departing from the truth on many issues when the UDP challenged him in the House of Representatives.

Faber was echoing the words of Dr. Fernando Cuellar, who this week resigned his seat on the Board of Directors of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, voicing similar criticisms of the health minister.

Faber accused the government of unfair procurement practices, which was enriching certain well-connected individuals who got the contracts to supply medications, at the expense of many needy individuals who entered the public health care system when they contracted COVID. He said government needs to make anti-COVID medications more readily available, and to try to get the best value for money by cutting out the middlemen in the procurement process.

He lamented the 296 persons who have died of COVID deaths since the beginning of the year 2021. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has reported 459 new deaths since the PUP took office. He noted that there is a shortage of basic medications for managing the disease at the KHMH, citing the claims of nurses and doctors that the KHMH does not have an adequate supply of acetaminophen, commonly sold under the trademark “Tylenol”. He noted that the cocktail of medications needed to manage the disease cost as much as $10,000 per patient at the KHMH, a cost which many low-income families simply cannot afford. He noted that government had paid $146,000 for the care of one individual at a private facility, when that same amount might have provided the necessary medication to help 14 patients survive COVID at the KHMH.

Faber had earlier announced that he paid as much as $40,000 for his mother’s care at a private health facility, when she contracted COVID; fortunately, she survived.

He noted that many of the COVID deaths are occurring even among persons who have received one shot of the vaccine, and even among person who are fully vaccinated. He pointed out that many are persons who had other pre-determining conditions which make them more vulnerable to COVID, such as hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer. He cited that the medications needed to manage non-communicable diseases are not readily available at any of the public health hospitals and clinics, and he called on the government to make these medicines more readily available to these patients, to reduce their vulnerability to COVID, and the death which have resulted from the shortages and high cost of these medications. He said that reducing the vulnerability of patients with NCDs would free up beds and other resources to treat other COVID patients.

He also called on government to reinstitute the pantry program to provide food and financial support for the families of those diagnosed with COVID.

In his second discourse on corruption, he accused the Briceño administration of conflict of interest in the way government contracts for telephone and Internet services have been diverted away from the publicly owned company, Belize Telemedia, to SMART Speednet, in which Briceño family members are major shareholders.

Faber also accused Briceño of a lack of transparency in his failure to disclose the exact amount of the compensation package when former Central Bank governor Manuel Vasquez resigned after serving barely six months of his five-year contract on a $200,000 annual salary. The Prime Minister gave no exact dollar figure when he answered the question in the House, only saying that the Central Bank had negotiated a settlement that was a 65 percent reduction on Vasquez’s initial demands. Vasquez’s contract was worth $1 million over the five years, from which one might have estimated that a 65 percent reduction would amount to a $350,000 settlement, but other independent sources in the media somehow estimated the compensation package at around $650,000.

He also challenged the Government to disclose why there is clause in the Blue Bond agreement with The Nature Conservancy for the payment of $15 million in legal fees. He noted that most of the debt for nature swap had been negotiated by the previous UDP administration and that TNC Belize program director Julie Robinson, in a panel discussion at COP26, had recalled that negotiations had begun almost three years ago, so the PUP had no need of legal advice in negotiating what Faber said was already a done-deal when the PUP took office. The government had not disclosed to whom the legal fees would be paid when the question came up in the House, and Faber said he hoped it would not be to the law firm of Coye and Courtenay, as both these attorneys are Ministers of government. 

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