When Nurse Sherlyn Marks dropped a bombshell exposé to the media revealing that Region 5 Councillor Carol Joseph was involved in using the leverage of her office to gain access to prescription drugs, this led to the uncharacteristically (for Guyana) sudden resignation of Councillor Joseph not only from the Regional Administration but from the People’s National Congress Reform as well.
Many felt at the time that the abrupt resignation was done to prevent the fallout from Nurse Marks’s exposé from reaching critical levels and further damaging and embarrassing the APNU+AFC administration.
This was particularly so as it was clear that Nurse Marks exhausted her access to all relevant internal governmental officials before the loud silence emanating from her superiors forced her to go to Member of Parliament Harry Gill who made the issue public.
In the aftermath of Nurse Marks’s revelation in April that Joseph was abusing her position to access unusual amounts of a prescription painkiller from the Fort Wellington Hospital, she received correspondence transferring her to the Bath Experiment Health Centre from 20th April, 2017.
While still adjusting to this blow, Nurse Marks has recently been dealt a further blow with the launch of an investigation initiated by the Region 5 Administration into her leaking of the information to the press, and with the alarming possibility of disciplinary action being taken against her looming frighteningly large.
A few days ago, the Ministry of Public Health reported that it had referred Nurse Sherlyn Marks’s file to the Department of Public Service for action on the basis that she breached public service rules when she complained about the abuse of medication by now resigned Region Five Councillor Carol Joseph.
With the circling of the wagons in the hierarchy of the Region 5 Administration now plainly visible to the public, their intent also seems unquestionable: quash the dissident in their midst, the one person who refused to toe the line and countenance illegality.
This development, following so soon after the near immediate transfer of Nurse Marks, points to an escalation in the action taken by the state against Marks – a whistleblower – who should be benefiting from the protection of the state, but instead is now exposed to a potential inquisitorial reprisal by the state.
The disclosures by Nurse Marks should have given the Regional Executive Officer Ovid Morrison an opportunity to clean house and make the necessary corrections to ensure that such an abuse of office should not recur under his watch. Instead he has chosen to go after the whistleblower, signalling to all and sundry that protection of the status quo is much more important than instituting any kind of positive change. Indeed, there is no talk of an investigation as to how former Councillor Joseph was able to breach all the institutional controls that should exist, particularly for prescription medication.
The Protected Disclosure Bill otherwise known as ‘Whistleblower’s Bill’ premised on the assumption that the disclosure of information for increased transparency was a necessary condition for accountability, was drafted by the administration since taking office, and consultations were held, but the Bill now seems to be gathering dust somewhere.
Under the draft bill, the disclosure being made must be one in which the individual reasonably believes that a criminal offence, a failure to carry out a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, conduct that tends to show gross mismanagement or unlawful discrimination, and danger to the health and safety of an employee, or damage to the environment has occurred. If that bar is crossed, then the individual can make the disclosure to the Protected Disclosure Commission, which is to be constituted, as outlined in the draft bill.
It is painfully obvious to all and sundry that Nurse Sherlyn Marks’ case meets all the requirements of the draft bill to qualify as a legitimate whistleblower, and the circumstances surrounding Ms Joseph required disclosures such as were made by Nurse Marks to her superiors who all neglected their responsibilities and did absolutely nothing. In the absence of the legislation and with no commission in place, Nurse Marks must be commended for having the courage to publicise the matter after those in a position to act demonstrated a dereliction of their duty in relation to the issue.
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran succinctly summed it up when he said this two years ago: “Whistleblower protection legislation is very important to protect the rights of those people who see wrongdoing…they are faced with a situation where they can’t confront… their superiors and they are hurt or they believe in the public interest and therefore they want to speak to someone. So, we need to protect them.”
Nurse Marks must be protected by the state and not subjected to transfers, inquisitions and whatever other adverse treatment they may have planned for this brave woman.