Health Minister Gets 72-Hour Ultimatum to Reinstate Health Workers

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Following hours of heated and vengeful debates, all pointed at Health & Social Welfare Minister Walter Gwenigale, the Senate on Tuesday, June 3rd, ordered Gwenigale to reinstate, within 72 hours, dismissed leaders of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NHWAL).

The Senate further mandated the Ministry to ensure that the two leaders be given all benefits enjoyed prior to their dismissal.

According to the Senate, Plenary on Tuesday voted 13 for, two against, with four abstentions, to order the reinstatement of NHWAL President Joseph Tamba and his Secretary General George Williams.

Minister Gwenigale, who is reportedly out of the country, is also requested to appear before the plenary of the Senate together with his lawyer immediately upon his return to the country, to show reason why he should not be held in contempt for refusing to reinstate the two officials.

The Senate’s order was transmitted to the Ministry through the Deputy Minister of Administration, Matthew T.K. Flomo who is currently acting as Minister, and was prompted by the absence of the Minister proper who had earlier been cited to appear before the Senate.

But appearing before that august body Tuesday, Deputy Minister Flomo was firstly confronted by Maryland County Senator H. Dan Morias who protested to his colleagues that the Minister was “not properly dressed” (attired). Flomo was wearing a coat suit and a shirt without a neck tie.

However, the Senate President, Ambassador Joseph Boakai, who was initially presiding, allowed it to pass as an observation and the session continued.

Then came the debate of what decision to take to help nip in the bud, rumors of plans by health workers to resort to another go-slow if their Association’s leaders are not reinstated as agreed at negotiations that led to the workers agreeing to return to work after similar nationwide go-slow early this year. 

Deputy Minister Flomo informed the Senators that the decision by Minister Gwenigale to reinstate 20 of the 22 dismissed health workers and leaving out the president and his secretary general was as a result of their role in the health workers' go-slow.

“The Minister of Health formally wrote the two individuals informing them of their permanent dismissal from the Ministry; a copy of that communication was served the Civil Service Agency (CSA). As I stand here now I may not be in the position to tell you exactly the reason why the Minister has not been able to reinstate the two persons in question, the Acting Minister said.”

For his part, Gbarpolu County Senator Armah Jallah reminded Deputy Minister Flomo about the gentleman's agreement with the NHWAL that ended the go-slow, and asked whether Minister Gwenigale remembers said agreement.

“It seems like the Ministry is being run by one person, because if the Ministry were run by a team, probably the acting Minister would not have acted in the manner he did,” Senator Jallah stressed.

Bomi County Senator Sando Dazoe Johnson referred to Minister Gwenigale as very ‘stubborn and arrogant’ person, “and that it is his arrogance that got us where we are. And we at the Senate will not tolerate that; we cannot allow one Minister to be law and gospel unto himself. The Ministry of Health was created by the National Legislature; until the Senate takes a decision and be very firm on it, this Minister of Health will continue to disrespect us.”

Senator Johnson continued: “Mr. Vice President, you are the second person in command in this country, we urge you to do all you can, because the Minister has made it clear that the President (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) is supporting him not to reinstate these people; you have to find out from the President whether she is the one supporting Minister Gwenigale, if she is the one that is making Minister Gwenigale to be stubborn, then we must know that and take the appropriate action.”

At the end of the barrage of condemnations and other suggestions, aging and outgoing Grand Kru County Senator Cletus Segbe Wotorson proffered the motion that was voted on 13 for, with two against and four abstentions to give the dismissed health workers leaders their jobs back with full benefits.

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