Senators attending regular session yesterday hurriedly fled the Senate Chambers on hearing reports of a fire outbreak in the building.
The fire, which reportedly started from the high ceiling of the Chamber, was immediately brought under control with no serious damage to that important section of the Capitol Building which hosts Legislators during joint sessions.
At the time of the alarm, the lawmakers were discussing a letter from the Minister of Health-designate, Dr. Bernice Dahn, in response to the one sent to the Senators by the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NAHWAL) asking them not to confirm her.
The discussion which turned into a heated debate was prompted by a call to order by Lofa County ranking Senator George Tengbeh. Sen. Tengbeh called for a halt to the reading of Dr. Dahn’s letter, citing its voluminous nature. In line with precedent, not rule, he called for a motion that the letter be sent to the Committee on Health.
But the motion, not the call to order, was vehemently protested against by several Senators, with Maryland County Sen. Dan Morais taking the lead, citing Rule 50 of the Senate.
Sen. Morais and those siding with him reminded their colleagues that the letter must be read in its entirety as approved by plenary when it was passed as an agenda item for yesterday’s sitting.
This argument was however, short-lived when Pro Tempore Armah Jallah announced: “There is report of a fire in the Joint Chambers, and session is hereby suspended.”
That notice did not need repeating, as Senators hurriedly collected their documents and other belongings and left the Chamber. The lights went out immediately thereafter.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dahn’s lengthy letter, only half of which was read, carried several attachments and gave specific reasons that led to the dismissals of the two NAHWAL leaders, Messrs. Joseph Tamba and George Williams, president and secretary general, respectively.
Firstly, Dr. Dahn said their dismissals were based on the death in Grand Gedeh County of a pregnant woman who needed a caesarian section and was denied care by an anesthetic nurse on duty. “This (was) sheer wickedness in addition to a total neglect and gross breach of our medical ethics…and the non-compulsory response to journalists’ questions posed to the leadership of NAHWAL on what their regrets were in relation to the woman’s death. Their response (allegedly) was that ‘this is a revolution.’
Dr. Dahn said this “hardened response prompted the senior management team of the Ministry to advise the Minister of Health to apply the law which prevents such action by civil servants. This advice was endorsed by the executive.”
Dr. Dahn then wondered whether the Ministry was wrong for being the voice of the people. “A dead pregnant woman, a deceased baby…had it been one of us, Honorable members of the Senate or one of our immediate relatives, what would we have expected of the Minister of Health? Please Sirs, kindly ponder these thoughts from the human perspective and advise us…,” said Dr. Dahn in her letter.
It may be recalled that NAHWAL through its leadership recently launched a scathing attack on Dr. Dahn in a three-page letter to the Senate cataloguing alleged misdeeds that if considered by that body cannot qualify her for the post.
In the letter dated April 20 Messrs. Williams and Tamba accused Dr. Dahn of constantly discouraging partners, who desired to add a little more to incentives of health workers, as was the case at the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town.
NAHWAL, according to the letter, “strongly believes that if government’s agenda is for an improved health care delivery system in the post-Ebola era, then certainly, Dr. Dahn, the former CMO, who led the sector for ten years to its total collapse, cannot be a worthy steward of the Ministry of Health & Social Welfare.”
In another development, the Senate yesterday granted Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Amara Konneh an excuse to allow him to attend the 52nd Anniversary of the African Development Bank (AfDB) conference in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
As one of the governors, Mr. Konneh informed the Senate that he was expected to deliver a paper and also vote for the next leadership of the Bank, and as such, he was requesting that the Senate allow him to appear before them next week to be able to adequately answer questions related to his recent town hall statement in the United States.
The Senate granted his request and Minister Konneh will now appear on Thursday, June 4.