In the first quarter of 2014, then Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Allen was under sustained fire from the Public Service Union primarily over the appointment of an inexperienced Minister’s daughter as the Director of Drug Inspectorate, who along with two others, was given the authority to approve the entry of pharmaceuticals through Customs. Separately, there was the threat of legal action against the CEO over remarks about the Chief pharmacist, Sharon Anderson. In an e-mail response to the supplies Procurement Manager, CEO Allen had written that Anderson was quote “holding the system to ransom” end quote. The Procurement Manager had written on April 11th quote “It is to my understanding that Mrs. Sharon Anderson is on strike and refusing to sign supplies – this could seriously endanger the health of our patients.” At a press conference held on May 9th, 2014, CEO Allen stated quote “Mrs. Anderson and I do not agree, and this affects the working environment, but this has nothing to do with the principal objective and the tasks which need to get done. I freely admit that I have a low tolerance for inefficiency and poor productivity. I am human and when I see some people not pulling their weight and placing an increased burden on the others in the system or worse, affecting our patients, well let me say that yes, it becomes very frustrating.” End quote. Well, that same year, the Chief Pharmacist obtained representation from attorney Herbert Panton and sued the CEO. The trial came up today before Madame Justice Shona Griffith and Panton submitted that despite having learned that Anderson at the time was actually on sick leave, the government officials still made prejudicial statements. In an interview after the trial, Panton said the legal representatives for the defendants, lead by deputy solicitor general Nigel Hawke, admitted that there had in fact been defamation:
Herbert Panton, Attorney for Sharon Anderson
“One of the things that happened in court is that the defendants agreed and accepted that what they said was defamatory. What is at issue is whether or not they can rely on privilege, that the communication was privileged. So there is no question whether or not what they said was defamatory, that was admitted. They are saying that what they said and the context within where they said it makes the communication privilege and our contention is that it cannot be privileged if you are going to use the occasion to enter into idle gossip about my client. She’s on strike. She is not at work. Within a day or two the entire Tender committee found out what the true factual position was, which was that Mrs. Anderson was on sick leave. The email circulated on the 11th of April. Within a day or two thereafter that information was in the possession of all the members of the Tender community. The CEO everybody. On the 9th of May almost a month after, they go on national television and neither he or any other member of the Tender committee had the decency to say yes we know that at the time when we said this she was on sick leave. So they cannot now come and hide under the cloak of privilege. That is not privilege at all. You circulated facts you knew were a lie”.
Written submissions will be made on July 8th. The claimants are seeking regular and punitive damages to the tune of 20 thousand dollars. The written decision is expected to be delivered on September 16, 2016. Sharon Anderson is a career public servant of 27 years.