Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fuad: I fired director for being ‘rude’

Dismissal of ERHA board member reaches PM

Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan has confirmed firing one of the directors of the board of the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) because he was “rude” and difficult to work with. 

Khan was responding to questions about recent firings of board members and claims that almost the entire executive management at the ERHA was vacant, a situation which sour­ces say has raised serious concerns about the delivery of health care to over 120,000 people, for which the authority is responsible. 

The ERHA has jurisdiction over the Sangre Grande Hospital and the Mayaro District Health Facility, as well as some 15 health centres, stretching from Matelot to Valencia.

Sources close to the authority told the Express the ERHA has been operating without an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) mana­ger, general manager (operations) and, up until recently, there was also no general manager (finance).

According to sources, “There is also no general manager IT (information technology), nor chief medical officer of health (CMOH), primary care, and no general manager, hospital services.” 

Checks also revealed the manager of cost and management accounting was also relieved of the post and has since sought legal advice. 

On April 3, two board directors, Nazimul Ali and Kiel Taklalsingh, an attorney-at-law, were sent packing after they received letters revoking their appointment from the authority. 

Contacted for comment, Health Minister Khan confirmed the firings.

He admitted it was he who fired Taklal­singh from the board.

He said he could no longer work with Taklalsingh. He has since refuted a list of allegations Taklalsingh had written to Prime Min­-

ister Kamla Persad-Bissessar about how the ERHA is being run..

“I could not work with him. I compiled a long list of responses to the things he said in the letter after the Prime Minister sent me his letter. 

Khan described Taklalsingh as “rude” and said he could no longer work with anyone who had that kind of attitude. 

“The rudeness and attitude emanating from him, I could not work with him. I decided if a board is under me and I have to work with him, then in the best interest of both of us, I think he should be removed.” 

Taklalsingh had written to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on February 26, 2014, infor­ming her of the untenable situa­-

tion at the ERHA and of a series of issues preceding his firing from the board.

Chief among them was his opposition to the appointment of the ERHA’s new CEO, Ameena Ali, last year. 

At the time of writing to the PM, on February 25, 2014, Taklal­singh said, “I am not yet informed of any reason for this revocation, nor has communication been sent to me expressing displeasure about my conduct as a director.”

He complained the termination of his directorship was shrouded in secrecy “when one considers that my appointment was renewed as recently as July 2013, having served previously for two years”.

Confused by the turn of events, Taklalsingh said in the absence of any real reasons, he could only surmise his firing is as a direct result of his “opposition” to the appointment of the new CEO Ali and his subsequent “disagreement” with some of her actions during her tenure as CEO.

The genesis, he said was October 14, 2013, when he received an e-mail from the board secretariat, requesting his urgent approval for the appointment of Ali as CEO.

Taklalsingh told the PM that after perusing Ali’s CV, he expressed concern Ali did not possess the minimum requi­rement of a post-graduate degree as specified in press ads. She is an attorney-at-law and also holds a diploma in pharmacy. Four of the other applicants who had been interviewed for the post all possess master’s degrees, according to documents reaching the Express. 

Taklalsingh also questioned Ali’s lack of finance experience, which he felt was critical to the CEO post, in the area of budgets preparation for the authority.

Taklalsingh withheld his approval and cautioned the “round-robin procedure is ill-suited for approval of a CEO by board members”.

His decision generated a board meeting on October 18, 2013, at which he maintained his position. 

He told the Prime Minister the board minutes of the meeting would reflect that all the board members agreed Ali did not have the minimum requirement. 

Taklalsingh said the board’s chairman (Dr Stephen Bhagan) subsequently informed members that the “Minister of Health intervened and approved the appointment of Ali as the CEO”.

He said Ali confronted him at a board meeting on November 2013, asking him why he opposed her hiring.

Following complaints by staff and board members of a rocky wor­king relationship with the CEO, Taklalsingh said, in December 2013, the board sought the advice of Seenath Jairam SC, president of the Law Association and one who is “very experienced in employment law and industrial relations”.

In early December 2013, Bhagan fired Ali but she was reinstated as CEO a few days later, following the intervention of the Health Minister. 

According to media reports at the time, Bha­gan said in the week prior to the decision to axe Ali, the ERHA board had received as many as 14 letters of complaints from various managers about the CEO’s conduct towards them.

In her defence, Ali said she was not given a reason why she had been terminated but claimed since her appointment as CEO on November 1, she had conducted several audits in the ERHA’s operations and, in the process, had “mashed plenty corns”.

Media reports at the time also claimed Khan threatened to dismiss the entire ERHA board for its handling of the Ali situation.

Taklalsingh said despite mediation, relations had broken down between the CEO and several members of senior management, evidenced by several legal letters sent to the board by senior management. He said some de­manded their contracts be bought off and threatened legal action, citing “constructive dismis­sal”.

He said because of “disintegrating relations between the CEO and the board”, the chairman informed members there would be no meeting in February. 

He said because of this, board papers were circulated for his approval but said he was “extremely uncomfortable with signing”. 

Sources told the Express the ERHA has not held any board meetings for the year thus far, and procurement decisions are being taken in a haphazard fashion. 

Taklalsingh pointed to instances where he was asked to approve a contract for a tender which he felt did not comply with tender regulations. Taklalsingh also pointed to a paving contract at the Sangre Grande hospital but the board papers, he said, failed to show how many contractors had bid and whether the job had been advertised or someone had personally selected “certain contractors”.

He said he was concerned the tender was not properly scrutinised by the Tender Committee.

Taklalsingh also questioned the appointment of a person to act in the position of general manager of finance, which is an esta­-

blished position of the ERHA, even though the person was not from the ERHA. 

He said there was no explanation as to why the position had not been advertised or what process was used to select the person who was chosen to act. 

“I have refused to approve both papers (the Sangre Grande paving contract and the acting appointment) and have expressed my concerns through e-mail to the chairman and other board members,” he said. 

Ali said she could not speak with the media without board permission. Despite the rancour, however, Ali, according to sources, has hit the ground running and, over the past three months, and has purchased six dialysis machines, extended the car park facilities at the Sangre Grande Hospital and refurbished a building at Toco to facilitate HIV/AIDS counselling, as well as for abused persons. 

She has also expanded the maternity unit at the Sangre Grande Hospital and installed a small neonatal clinic.