What we make of the recent press statement by the MOPH warning “senior employees to look out for police detectives and Finance Ministry internal auditors”, who will soon begin investigations into the “misappropriation of funds and the blatant attempts to steal public funds” depends on the perspective from which we interpret it, there being a seeming absence of context to the document itself.
‘Threats’ of the nature contained in the Ministry’s missive are customarily preceded (or attended) by revelations of specific instances of malpractice and irregularity. This time, there was none; only a tirade from Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence about “blatant attempts to steal” and “other brazen dishonest acts perpetrated by MOPH employees” and an unveiled threat that “the police and officials from the Ministry of Finance will carry out open investigations into ongoing corrupt practices by staff members.” The statement was attended, oddly, in our view, by reference to the fact that the Minister was a “professional accountant” and that it was her view that “fraud has been ongoing a long time at the Public Health Ministry.” Somehow, it seemed like an insinuation, intended or otherwise, that it was the Minister’s own exertions that had been, at least partially, responsible for the discovery that the MOPH is no stranger to fraud.
So severe had been the Minister’s tirade, the statement said, that the assembled Programme Managers “appeared stunned by her revelations,” a disclosure which suggested that her pronouncements may well have come like a bolt from the blue. Public declarations of this nature, mind you, are invariably preceded by some inkling, veiled or otherwise, that something is ‘brewing.’ This time, there was nothing – only this seemingly animated pronouncement (“I will not compromise on the issue of accountability within the public health sector”) suggesting that Minister Lawrence had gradually gathered a ‘head of steam’ that had finally morphed into an uncompromising declaration of war on corruption in the Ministry. Never mind the fact that this turn of events had strayed radically from the accustomed practice applied in dealing with allegations of irregularity in public sector agencies.
More baffling, perhaps was the fact that all of this was unfolding at the MOPH, which, historically, and arguably far more frequently than most other state agencies, had become used to sensational disclosures of irregularities associated with instances of pilfering of drugs, multi-million dollar corruption-driven sole-sourcing irregularities in the drugs and medical supplies acquisition process, blatant (and again corruption-driven) breaches of regulations associated with the importation of food and drugs and other fraud-related irregularities. Whilst most of these have been attended by generous measures of public fuss and media exposure none (as far as we recall) have ever been attended by the kinds of veiled threats attributed to Minister Lawrence in the Ministry’s missive.
Why then the appearance of this awkwardly constructed pronouncement sourced to the MOPH of which there had been no prior warning and which had not been preceded by the accustomed hints of trouble to come? And why, up until now, has there still been no apparent evidence of a robust follow-up to the ‘threats’ attributed to Minister Lawrence in the document? Could it be that the target of the Minister’s message goes beyond her Ministry (her Programme Managers et al) and extends to a constituency in which she has a more direct and immediate political interest. Contextually, one might well wonder about the deliberate attention- getting pronouncements in the statement (according to the statement Minister Lawrence is supposed to have accused employees of “sabotaging the Ministry, left, right and centre”) and the assembling of the Ministry’s top brass to throw down the gauntlet and afterwards having the Ministry make a public pronouncement on the proceedings that unmistakably sought to secure maximum public traction. It was surely a great deal of fuss to go to simply to precede an announcement that the police were being called in. The point to be made here is that the sense of urgency associated with the tone of the statement seemed out of place precisely because it was attended by no specific smoking gun on this occasion. One is left to wonder whether the drumbeat tone of Minister Lawrence’s declaration about eradicating corruption in the Public Health Ministry might not, at least on this occasion, indeed be tied to her campaign exertions associated with her bid for the chairmanship of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), she being, after all, one of only a modest handful of female members of what one might call the PNCR’s old guard. After all, the Minister’s handlers may well have advised her that an anti-corruption platform is as firm a plank (or at least one of them) as any from which to make a bid for the chairmanship of her Party, given what we know to be the corruption-related concerns that apply across the populace as a whole. So that it is a question of making a determination as to whether the Ministry’s recent pronouncement regarding the outcomes of her engagement with her senior functionaries seeks to speak to Minister Lawrence’s ministerial concerns about corrupt practices in the MOPH or whether hers are not a thinly veiled aspect of a campaign strategy linked to her wider ambitions within the ‘paramount’ political party in the governing coalition.