President Donald Ramotar this morning fired Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran following his verbal abuse of rights activist, Sherlina Nageer on April 20 outside the Whim Magistrate’s Court.
A press release from the Office of the President today said:
“His Excellency President Donald Ramotar has named Dr Jennifer Westford to act as the Minister of Health.
Minister Bheri Ramsaran has since been relieved of his Ministerial duties following a meeting with the President.
The President reiterates his outrage at the verbal outbursts and insults uttered by the Minister recently.”
The firing comes after unrelenting public pressure for Ramotar to sack Ramsaran for his profane abuse of Nageer and a subsequent threat to have her stripped. Ramsaran’s dismissal comes nine days after the abuse of Nageer which he expanded on at a subsequent meeting with Regional Health Officers. Though he had condemned Ramsaran’s remarks, observers say that Ramotar had resisted sacking Ramsaran as it had not been the habit of the PPP/C to remove ministers, particularly one with a senior position in the PPP. Acting only nine days later, observers say that Ramotar would face the question of why he had not acted earlier and decisively. Ramsaran becomes the first minister to be fired by the Ramotar administration and observers say it is testimony to the unrelenting campaign by civil society added to the view that real damage could be done to the PPP/C campaign in the few remaining days before the May 11th general election. Ramsaran’s removal would be the highest profile sacking since the PPP/C parted ways with then Finance Minister Asgar Ally and replaced him with his junior minister, Bharrat Jagdeo.
On April 20, Ramsaran was recorded verbally abusing Nageer, saying he would slap her for the fun of it and have her stripped in a public place.
Ramsaran had journeyed to Whim to support former president Bharrat Jagdeo, who was expected to attend the court to answer a private charge filed against him by Ram. The confrontation occurred after the minister labelled Ram a “wife beater” while being interviewed by reporters. Nageer interjected and proceeded to confront him about the deaths of women and children in the health care system under his watch.
At this point Ramsaran could be heard calling Nageer a “piece of shit” and an “idiot” before asking her to get out of his face.
After the recording of the exchange between the minister and Nageer began circulating in the public, he issued an apology in which he claimed to have been provoked into anger and uttered harsh words which he regretted. However, the day after the minister was recorded calling Nageer a “miscreant,” accusing her of spitting on him and saying she was in need of psychiatric help.
In her statement filed with the Crime Chief on April 27, Nageer says that at no time did she raise her voice, spit at or otherwise threaten Ramsaran.
“M. Ramsaran, however advanced towards me, raising his hands. I moved back and put up my own hand defensively at this point. (Most of the rest of the time however, my hands were clasped behind my back). I felt threatened by Mr Ramsaran, as if he wanted to hit me,” Nageer charges in the statement.
Ramsaran’s actions have been condemned by the western missions and local civil society organisations. Members of the governing PPP/C have spoken out against him as well, although a PPP statement argued that his actions were blown out of proportion.
A brief statement from the Government Information Agency last Friday stated that Ramotar had reprimanded the minister but did not suggest further action against him was imminent.
The Women and Gender Equality Commission had said that Ramsaran must offer his resignation.
“Despite claims that he was goaded into such an outburst, he should have acted with restraint, recognising that he is a public officer. All Guyanese have a constitutional right to ask questions of public officers, as much as those officers have a right to answer those questions in an appropriate manner,” it said in a brief statement.
“His reaction was uncalled for. His remarks are unacceptable for any person – far more so coming from a Minister of Government. He must face the full consequences of his actions and offer his resignation as the decent thing to do,” the commission added, while noting that no woman, or any person, deserves to be treated in the manner of Ramsaran’s outburst.
The Guyana Human Right Association (GHRA) also commented on the case and noted that the PPP leadership was resisting universal condemnation and protecting the minister
“The continued presence of Dr Bheri Ramsaran as Minister of Health and candidate on the PPP/C electoral list is the direct result of the feeble levels of accountability in our electoral and political systems,” it said, while arguing that the case highlights “the real powerlessness of citizens and civic influence” in the political system, particularly over parliamentarians selected in their name by party leaderships.
“Ramsaran’s survival as a parliamentarian, much less as a Minister, rests entirely with the leadership of his party.
The only avenue for a voter wishing to signal their rejection of him as a candidate is to reject the entire party list, thereby rendering him a liability to all other candidates on the list,” it noted.
Noting that the current list system effectively denies electors scope to evaluate the qualities they want to see in candidates, the GHRA also called for a removal of the party monopoly over the system and re-establishment of the direst influence of voters over elected officials..