It seems that the outgoing Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Walter Traub Gwenigale’s request for retirement has been granted by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
In a special address to the nation yesterday, President Sirleaf replaced Dr. Gwenigale as Minister of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) with Mr. George Werner, who, too, will leave his post as head of the Civil Service Agency (CSA) if and when he is confirmed by the Liberian Senate.
However, the President had a special word for Dr. G, as the former Health Minister is affectionately called. She said “ Dr. Gwenigale who continues to have my full confidence, will continue to serve as Advisor in the Ministry of Health, will continue to work with me on the President’s Advisory Ebola Committee, until his planned retirement in February.”
Dr. G., who joined President Sirleaf’s Cabinet in 2006, had written the President on November 3, 2014, asking for her permission to retire next February 2015, which is also the month in which he takes his deferred annual leave. He will also turn 80 next February.
In his letter, Dr. G. did not provide reasons for his request to retire but told the President he was retiring “from a personally gratifying active service to my country since September 1, 1973.”
Recounting his years of service, Dr. G. said he returned to the country in August 1973, with “a young foreign wife and a year old son and started working for Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing on September 1st as the Chief of Surgery.” He was subsequently appointed Medical Director/CEO of Phebe the following year and in that same year, he was made Medical Director (now County Health Officer—CHO) of Bong County, where the hospital is located.
He had inherited a 65-bed hospital; but between 1974 and 2003, when he left his administrative post at the hospital, he had increased the beds to 200 and the hospital campus grew to include the Rural Health Training Center for 200 students and an eye hospital was built by CBM of Germany.
Even after stepping down as CHO and CEO in 2003, he continued to serve the hospital as Chief of Surgery until he was asked by the President to join her Cabinet.
The former Health Minister told the President: “I have enjoyed working for my country under your wise and competent leadership. I will truly miss you and my seat in your Cabinet Room, but stand ready to advise you and my successor, should I be asked to do so.”
Dr. G. also had this to tell the President: “Because I started supervising all of the MOHSW activities in Bong County in June of 1974, I can truly say I have served my country from that time until now, and do deserve to be pensioned by the country I have served all my productive life. Therefore, I kindly request that you favorably consider my request for a pension for the years, I have worked for the Government of Liberia.”
Following 33 successful years in Bong County, the last three years of Dr. G’s tenure in Monrovia as Minister of Health and Social welfare, have been contentiously driven by claims and counter claims between him and striking public health workers on one hand and some members of the National Legislature on the other hand.
Last October, when he addressed a regular press briefing at the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism, he had said the two dismissed leaders of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NHWAL) would “NEVER” come back to work with the Ministry as long as he was there as Minister. Calling for the reinstatement of the two had been one of the demands of the striking health workers.
Min. Gwenigale’s remark did not go down well with many people, including lawmakers. When lawmakers in the Senate summoned him, he reportedly accused the senators of being supportive of the strike action by health workers. It angered the senators who threatened him with “contempt.” He was, however, saved from the senators’ wrath when his physician, Dr. Robert Kpoto, told the lawmakers that his (Dr. Gwenigale’s) blood pressure was 197/90, and that he needed rest and medication for 14 days and therefore could not appear for a hearing.
Following that communication from his doctor, 15 senators, among them, Senators Geraldine Doe-Sherif, Jewel Howard-Taylor, H. Dan Morais. Sando Johnson, Henry Willie Yallah and Thomas Grupee, requested, in a three-page communication to their colleagues, for President Sirleaf to retire Min. Gwenigale.
They had said in their communication that Dr. Gwenigale, who should be the frontline general to supervise health workers, needs to be in the best frame of mind, void of illnesses such as high blood pressure during the Ebola crisis.