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Health secretary appointment questioned

Tuesday 29 December 2020 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Health, National

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Health secretary appointment questioned
Acting Secretary of Health Bob Williams. TCI/20122843

Former police officer Bob Williams has been appointed the acting Secretary of Health while the hunt for a permanent head of ministry continues.

Questions have been raised over the appointment of Bob Williams as acting Secretary of Health.

Williams, the former chief executive officer for the Minister of Health’s Support Office, took over the role on Christmas day.

The position became vacant after Dr Josephine Aumea Herman resigned in November this year. Dr Herman was supposed to see out her three-year term ending in February 2021 but she decided to vacate her position on Friday.

Public Service Commissioner Russell Thomas confirmed Williams’ appointment after he tendered his resignation from the chief executive officer role on Thursday.

But the Opposition Democratic Party has raised concerns over the appointment and the selection process adopted by the Office of the Public Service Commissioner.

Opposition leader Tina Browne said: “We would have expected one of the directors in the Ministry of Health to be appointed the acting Secretary of Health until the permanent appointment is made.”

“It is of concern that someone with no health administration or health management related qualifications or experience has been chosen for the top Health post in our country.

“At a time when we are battling to keep the Covid pandemic out of our country, new strains of the virus are becoming established around the world, countries are experiencing second waves, the government has made a political appointment rather than putting the needs of the country, our people first and appointing someone with the experience and qualifications that are required.”

In criticising government appointments, Browne said there was glaring disparity between the criteria set for the positions, qualifications and experience and who the government then appoints to these top posts.

According to the Office of the Public Service Commissioner, minimum requirements to apply for Secretary of Health role are Masters in Public Sector Management or Masters in Business Administration in Heath and 10 year’ working experience at a senior leadership position in managing and administering a major function of a small/medium organisation or a major department//branch of a large organisation.

Browne said: “What the Opposition will be watching closely is that the Public Service Commission does not depart from accepted appointment processes for senior positions in government.”

“The Public Service Commission cannot deviate from its own selection process; the appointment of a selection panel, creation of a short list, background checks, interview process, selection of top applicants and the final step of submitting to the relevant minister the recommended candidate.

“The government can rest assured that Opposition will not accept any hint of political cronyism or deviation from the rules with respect to appointing a permanent head for Health. The person who gets this job must absolutely be the best applicant for the position. The appointment must be based on merit not political favours and tradeoffs amongst coalition cabinet members. The Opposition will not tolerate this and neither will the public.”

Russell Thomas said Williams brings a wealth of administrative and operational experience to this position.

His journey in the public sector started with the Cook Islands Police Service where he served for 16 years rising to the rank of Senior Detective at the time of his departure.

“Williams also spent a decade in the Financial Intelligence Unit managing stakeholder relationships, policy and legislative reforms. This work helped place the Cook Islands at the forefront of having an effective framework to mitigate money laundering,” Thomas said.

“A short stint with the Office of the Public Service Commissioner as a senior policy advisor was followed with his appointment to the Bank of the Cook Islands as the chief risk officer where Williams was responsible for assessing operational, regulatory, legal, technological and financial risks across the business of the bank.”

Williams has strong relationships across community groups in Rarotonga and in the Pa Enua, adds Thomas.

“He intends to work closely with the Te Marae Ora’s senior management team and their stakeholders who have all worked together to keep this nation one of the few countries that remains free of Covid-19.”

The recruitment process for the next Secretary of Te Marae Ora began last month. Applications closed on Thursday.