Sunday, October 17, 2021

Health PS early retirement sets tongues waging

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness Shenaaz El-Halabi will retire early from the civil service to join the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid claims that she had a difficult relationship with her principals. 

The soft-spoken El-Halabi confirmed in a brief interview with the Sunday Standard this week that she will be joining WHO and is expected to work under the office of the Director General as a Director.

Quizzed by the Sunday Standard, El-Halabi was cagey about why she had decided to retire early from the civil service and instead adopted a diplomatic approach describing her stay at the ministry as “great.”

“I have been with the Ministry for 24 years and I would say it was great. I learnt a lot of things there,” she said.

Pressed further to comment on reports that she had a frosty relationship with her superiors, El-Halabi said “where did you get that. Just know that it is not true. I’m just retiring.”

Insiders claim that El-Halabi has had a difficult relationship with her political principals and was not comfortable with some of the decisions and policies introduced by government which she perceived as “regressive and her advice fell on deaf ears.”

According to a savingram signed by one Hazel N. Reaitsenye on behalf of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness El-Halabi will retire on the 30th November.

“This communiqu├® serves to officially inform you that the Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Health and Wellness, Ms Shenaaz El-Halabi is retiring from Public Service on the 30th November 2017.”

She added that “we therefore thank her for the valuable contribution she has made to this country during her stay in this Ministry and wish her best of luck in her next endeavour.”

In June this year, El-Halabi, found herself with her back against the wall as Public Accounts Committee (PAC) pressed her to either confirm or deny that President Ian Khama initiated a controversial policy aimed at removing patients from medical cover for self-inflicted harm during one of his State of the Nation Address.

Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse was the first to draw blood when he asked El-Halabi to state whether she heard or learnt about a pronouncement by President Khama when delivering State of the Nation Address that “self-inflicted harm related conditions will be paid for by patients and not the government.”

Seated opposite each other, Keorapetse and Shenaz locked horns over key issues such as the process followed to reach a decision contained in Savingram No. MH9/43 dated 29 March 2017 addressed to all DHMT Heads, whether President Khama initiated the decision and the definition of self-inflicted harm.

El-Halabi was at pains when Keorapetse demanded a “yes or “no” to whether she heard or learnt about the initiative from President Khama’s State of the Nation Address. Shenaz did choked on her response, prompting PAC Chairman, Abraham Kesupile to intervene.

“His Excellency’s speech is meant to tell the world how the country is doing and in that speech there are policy pronouncements. Did you go back and look at the speech?”

Before Shenaz could reply, Keorapetse explained that “I think it was off the text. His Excellency made it in Parliament,” to which Shenaz replied that “I must have missed it.”

Shenaz was non-committal prompting Keorapetse to accuse her of speaking in forked tongue.

“Doctor you are under oath; you can’t speak in forked tongues,” he said

Shenaz conceded saying that, “no I didn’t hear it (announcement by President Khama).”

Keorapetse then asked Shenaz to take the PAC through the process followed when coming up with the policy; “whether this was coming from President Khama or it was coming from outside her Ministry because this was made by President Khama.”

At this stage, Shenaz appealed to Kesupile to rein in Keorapetse who was apparently in his element.

“Honourable Chair, I have been asked to make a re-submission regarding this issue,” she said. By being advised to make a re-submission, Shenaz was making reference to a recommendation by another PAC member, Bogolo Kenewendo who had earlier on sought  statistics relating to what could have motivated the ministry to come up with the policy in question (Shenaz had stated that they came up with the policy to contain escalating costs). But Kesupile overruled her and advised her to stick and respond to questions asked by Keorapetse.

“We are discussing the savingram. Just simply answer the questions. If you answer those not asked you are putting yourself into trouble. Don’t put yourself in a position whereby you are like in court and you are going to be jailed; just state the facts,” Kesupile said.

Shenaz said the policy was the initiative of her ministry and added that after they had drafted it, they forwarded it to Cabinet.

But Keorapetse dug in his heels.

“Were you advised that it is legal and within your powers in terms of the constitution, Public Health Act and its regulations as well as international humanitarian law and standards to issue the decision contained in the savingram?” he asked. Shenaz replied in the affirmative.

“Do you agree that the savingram and or the decision therein is oppressive and a gratuitous violation of the rights of patients with no legal basis,” Keorapetse further asked.  Shenaz said the savingram was suspended following a public backlash.

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