Following a week of reprieve from enraged Senators of the 53rd Legislature, embattled Health and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale is expected to face the Senate plenary today with his lawyer, to show reason why he should not be held in contempt by the Senate.
The Senate’s decision last Tuesday to hold Dr. Gwenigale in contempt, came in a report by the Senate Committee on Health, submitted to plenary on October 15, 2014 in which he (Dr. Gwenigale) is allegedly accusing the Liberian Senate of being supportive of the strike action by health workers.
The health workers were threatening for the third time in one year to go on strike, in demand for the reinstatement of their dismissed president Joseph Tamba, and secretary general George Williams.
The Senate Committee on Health was meeting with Minister Gwenigale to enquire why he had refused to reinstate the two leaders.
The Health Minister’s outbursts during the meeting with the committee on Health, headed by Senator Peter Coleman as contained in the report to plenary, did not go down well with the lawmakers, who immediately ordered the Secretary of the Senate to write and invite Minister Gwenigale to face the Senate plenary.
However, after receiving the citation and waiting in the Senate Cafeteria for the most part of the day, Dr. Gwenigale was finally summoned in the Chambers and informed that he was before the Senate to answer contempt charges, and reminded him that he was entitled to a lawyer if he so desired. His appearance was then postponed to afford him the chance to face the Senators along with his lawyer.
But to the amazement of the lawmakers and the dozens that gathered in the Senate gallery to witness Dr. Gwenigale’s appearance, the Senate Secretary read a communication from the embattled Minister, informing the Senators his inability to appear, citing poor health.
In that communication to the Senate plenary dated October 17, 2014, Dr. Gwenigale said he was unable to appear as requested by the Honorable House of the Senate due to health reasons which could also not permit him to travel along with the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during her recent trip to Lofa County.
“After my appearance before the Senate last Thursday, my blood pressure went up, and it is still up with mild headache. Appearing before you again tomorrow will further increase my pressure.
Dr. Gwenigale’s letter continued: “I kindly request that you reschedule my reappearance to a time when my health condition has improved. I thank you for your understanding and cooperation…”
After hours of debating the Doctor’s communication, a motion was proffered by Sinoe County Senator Nyenpan requesting that the communication from Dr. Gwenigale be received by the Liberian Senate, and that his request be granted to the effect that he appeared before the Senate on Tuesday (October 28, 2014), and that he brings along medical certificate indicating his state of health during the period of his illness.
An authoritative source within the leadership of the Senate informed this newspaper yesterday that Dr. Gwenigale will make his long-awaited appearance before the plenary today.