Thorne queries QEH CEO pick

Government’s decision to hire a British national as chief executive officer (CEO) of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) has concerned Opposition Leader Ralph Thorne.

As the Estimates Debate continued in the House of Assembly last Wednesday with the Ministry of Health under the microscope, Thorne queried if no local or regional person with the requisite skills set could be found. He also charged that the ruling administration had failed to create the environment that would encourage Barbadians to apply for top positions in this country.

In response, Minister of Health and Wellness The Most Honourable Senator Dr Jerome Walcott, who was sitting in the Well of Parliament with other officials from his ministry, said the Opposition Leader’s argument was without merit. He stressed that at no stage was the transparency of the candidate selection compromised. 

Thorne told the House that apart from the academic and logistical requirements of the job, there was a cultural component which must not be ignored. Referencing the report that only two Barbadians applied out of 84 applicants, he questioned whether Government was attempting to reduce the justification to a statistical argument.

“Why do you have to tell Barbadians that only two Barbadians applied? It is not a statistical argument, and Barbadians will begin to wonder if we are not fit to run our hospital. Whether it is two or 22, if one had applied, is he or she less fit than the one guru who will join shortly? The social scientists talk about negation of self and here we are negating the worth of an entire population who are probably qualified academically and intellectually, but you reduce it to a statistical argument,” the Christ Church South Member of Parliament argued.

“One must conclude that you are saying that two Barbadians are not equal to one Englishman. In so many years after 1966 we must reject that argument. It is not an argument that has validity in a modern Barbados.”

He said Barbadians could feel inclined not to apply for certain posts because “they feel as if the position would not be made available to them”.

“It is not only the Queen Elizabeth Hospital that is afflicted with this cultural problem. We understand that in [the Ministry of] Housing, who have not presented themselves before us, we now have the HOPE project which is now under the chairmanship of a South African. If that is the mood in this country, how do you expect Barbadians to apply and feel that they will qualify for these positions?” Thorne asked.

“I am saying that the Government is on a trajectory where it is seeming to reject qualified Barbadians to occupy these high offices. The position of the CEO of the hospital is not entirely technical; all work is cultural work. I say in here today that a young Barbadian or even a young West Indian, who is familiar with the culture of this place, is as well qualified as anyone, or even better qualified, to deal with people.”

In his response, Walcott said the primary objective of the recruitment process was to ensure the best talent is at the helm of the country’s premier health facility. He noted that previous administrations, including the last Freundel Stuart-led Government, would have retained the services of non-nationals for this position.

“This process has not been in secret. It was made known last May; prior to that it had been indicated in speeches. The [QEH] board decided, the board had been told that this is their process and they took responsibility for that process. I have not interfered in the process. Contrary to the assertion of the Leader of the Opposition, I have had no role in it.

“My permanent secretary was on the board; I believe the general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers was on the selection committee. They advertised and 84 people applied. Two were Barbadian and I was concerned about that. So, I do not know about this nonsense about two Barbadians being equivalent to one Englishman,” the minister said, while revealing that 43 Trinidadians had applied.

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