The scandal surrounding the appointment of the daughter of Trade Minister Erwin Contreras, Danini Contreras, as Director of the Drug Inspectorate has stepped up to new levels with reports that the Pharmacists’ Association has threatened industrial action.
Minister of Health Pablo Marin and CEO Dr. Peter Allen were quizzed today about this latest development and the Minister at least certainly doesn’t appear fazed. We begin though with a report from Dr. Allen about the Ministry’s meeting with the Association.
“Now, with due respect to the executive, it is a little bit difficult for me to think that what is a special interest, that has an interest of course in who conducts inspections, should be telling us who the inspector will be. Now, obviously, we are open to negotiations, and it was for that reason that the minister suggested that the association is welcome to send a representative on any inspection to make sure that the process was transparent and fair. The executive rejected that. The minister also offered the executive to meet with them on a regular basis, we suggested every two months, but again, the executive rejected that”.
Dr. Allen says the Ministry is only trying to enforce standards for the private sector as it does for the public sector. And his boss the Minister says they will not back down.
Hon. Pablo Marin- Minister of Health
“I asked them if they want someone to accompany them at the various locations and they are not agreeing. They are set they are by for me to fire the lady, and I said, the girl has the qualifications needed. I think she is the only one that has the qualifications that she has right now. For someone to do a drug inspection here in Belize, you only need like a two weeks training and that’s it. This person has a Bachelor’s degree. She is well qualified and according to one of our technical persons, Dr. Manzanero, she is qualified. So, we are taking some of the advice from our people, what I need to see is to be able to pinpoint and to look at the different locations that are selling illegal drugs and drugs that are over the counter, drugs that need prescription that they are not being looked at.Now, with this person in place, we will be able to do all of these things. Just give me a time and you will notice that this will be working, and we will have someone that will look at the benefit of our people”.
Both men confirmed that Ms. Contreras is a contract officer as opposed to a regular public servant. But according to Dr. Allen, that does not mean she was any less scrutinized.
Dr. Peter Allen: “Well, it was a very brief process and thank you for the question. We received a letter from the Security Council bringing this issue to our attention. It so happened that at the same time, we became aware of Miss Danini Contreras, and her qualifications she was qualifying in Guatemala. Now, we particularly noted the part of the letter from the National Security Council requesting us to source and operate a mini-testing lab for the chemistry of pharmaceuticals and we thought, what a good idea! We really want to do that. It has been something we have wanted to do for some time. You will understand, of course that with absolutely no disrespect to our pharmacists, the degree offered in Belize is an Associate’s Degree, and we really needed somebody with a Bachelor’s Degree”.
Dr. Allen says that the Association must, and has not yet, informed Minister of Labour Godwin Hulse of any plans to invoke the Settlement of Disputes in Essential Services Act, of which the health services are one category.