The new Hon Minister of Health, Anwar Husnoo, stated in no uncertain terms in answer to a Parliamentary Question on Tuesday last, that he had instructed the Trust Fund for Specialised Medical Care, not to grant a proposed monthly salary increase of Rs 100,000 to the Executive Director of the Trust Fund. The Trust Fund has, notwithstanding, gone ahead to give the increase with retroactive effect from 1st December 2016. He was flatly overruled. In the circumstances, the newly appointed Minister is seeking advice from the Attorney-General whether it was in order for the Trust Fund not to have complied with his decision as Minister.
Hon Husnoo has even explained that when the question of this increase in salary contemplated (five days before he himself was appointed new Minister of Health in replacement of Hon A Gayan), was brought to him, he informed the Prime Minister that he was opposed to the proposal. According to Hon Husnoo, the PM concurred with the stand he took. In other words, the Trust Fund has, by granting the salary increase despite the ministerial objection to it, overruled both the Minister of Health and the PM who had concurred with the Minister’s stand in the matter.
It even looks as if, against the new Health Minister’s advice to the Trust Fund not to extend the Executive director’s term beyond one year, the Trust Fund has extended it by two years.
It goes to the credit of the new Minister of Health that he has stated so candidly the contradictions he has been confronted with and, that too, in the presence of the previous Minister of Health, Anil Gayan, sitting next to him.
The new Minister of Health stated that, according to information supplied to him, the Trust Fund’s Executive Director’s all-inclusive monthly pay is in the region of Rs 323,000, following the increase granted despite his objection to it.
This level of a monthly salary to a political nominee in a public institution may look outrageous. Indeed, the PM has stated that he was shocked. At what? The salary or the refusal of the Trust Fund Board to comply with the directive from the Minister?
The question arises whether a board, such as that of the Trust Fund, can overrule the Minister in charge of the portfolio under which it operates. It looks unusual that the Minister who has publicly disclosed this information for the first time should be ignored by the Board of the Trust Fund, which includes the Senior Chief Executive of the Ministry among its members. Does this mean that, for bodies like the Trust Fund, there is no public accountability, especially so in the case of a political appointee? Are they answerable to themselves alone?
Not only does the liberty taken by the Trust Fund’s Board look like an aberration, given that public funds are concerned and explanations had to be given. It is also that actions of the sort have been casting the government in bad light. The public is forming an opinion, thanks to cases like this, that the new politicians, just like the previous ones they were blaming for cronyism and abuse, are doing exactly the same as what they were blaming their predecessors for.
The tone of Hon Husnoo, when answering the question, was one of helplessness, despite the main protagonists involved coming from his own party, the Muvman Liberater. The instruction he issued was not getting the due consideration it deserved from a Trust Fund falling under him. And, adding insult to injury, he was informed that contrary to his decision given to the Trust Fund not to extend the Executive Director’s contract for more than one year, it had actually already been previously extended for two years.
Unless this kind of abuse is stopped immediately, the future may not be writ in bright letters for the government.
Editor’s note: As we were going to press, the news of the resignation of Ms Vijaya Sumputh came through. However, this in no way affects the substantive issues raised in the article.