You surely know the name of Minister of Trade Erwin Contreras, but you probably don't know his daughter Danini Contreras. But she's making the news tonight because she's gotten a big job at the Ministry of Health and the rarely-heard-from Pharmacists' Association of Belize is making a major stink about it.
Contreras – who we are told has a degree in Chemical Pharmaceuticals was brought in as the Director of the Drug Inspectorate in the Ministry of Health. The Pharmacists Association says that she's not qualified for that post and today the President and Vice President of that association – who both work for government – spoke plainly about why they're dissatisfied with her appointment:
Hortence Humes - President, Pharmacists' Association of Belize"To be a drug inspector, you have to be a registered pharmacist, have 5 years working experience, specialized training in drug inspection, and have an associate or a diploma in pharmacy."
Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News
"And Ms. Contreras does not have does qualifications?"
"She is not a registered pharmacist. She has a bachelor's degree in science in chemical pharmaceutical."
"So what should she have? Why are you saying she is not qualified for this post? Just because she is not registered as a pharmacist?"
"The drug inspector also has to be familiar with the pharmacy structure of the country and with no working experience, not knowing what is happening in the industry in the country, we feel that she is not qualified to be that."
Marisol Melhado - Vice President, Pharmacists' Association of Belize"This person not being qualified - there's a way around that. The person can get training - fine. But the fact that the person has no working experience and has no knowledge of the status quo of Belize in terms of what is actually happening - the fact that the person is very politically tied gives us that sense of what are you going to actually be looking at - are you going to be subjected to just looking at what you need to look at, or at everything. And that's where it hurts us to think that it might just be a person that is groomed to be a rubber stamp."
"Supposed, someone would take an interpretation that, man, you all are just nit-picking? We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We're a country with very few qualified persons. This is a person with a qualification in a particular specialty"
"To say that there are no qualified persons here, I don't believe that. At the moment actually, we have pharmacists out there who are qualified and cannot find a job. They are working at Ready Call, and these are registered pharmacists, qualified and cannot find a job."
"How far is the Pharmacists' Association prepared to or able to take this fight against the appointment of Ms. Contreras?"
"We have set our demands to rectify the situation. Even if there is a progress in sessions on how to rectify it we are willing to discuss this. But we want for the Ministry of Health to recognize the profession first of all and know that whenever you do things there are consequences to them and we are prepared to go all the way."
Today, the hours after the Pharmacists sent out their release, the Ministry of Health sent out its own. It says, quote, "While the Ministry supports several of the points raised by the executive, it opposes others. Some of the issues raised appear to be flawed conclusions based presumably on inaccurate information. The Ministry emphatically rejects the underlying premise of the release," end quote.
It adds that quote, "a highly qualified and extremely professional officer has been recruited to head an independent drug inspectorate unit, but to discuss the professional attributes of this or any other officer in a public forum is not encouraged by the Ministry."
We tried to reach Ms. Contreras directly but was told she was in an office without an extension.
So, for the time being, the Ministry has set up a meeting with the Pharmacists to discuss their differences. But, those differences are substantial – and in fact there are grievances going back some years. Melhado discussed those with us today:
Marisol Melhado - Vice President, Pharmacists' Association of Belize
"We feel this way because of what we have had and endured over the past years. First, it started with the removal of the pharmacist technical advisor from the tendering. They second move was the intent of abolishing the Board exam, which is tied into our laws that govern the pharmacists in the country, known as the Chemist and Druggist of Belize. After that was the actual intent of - well it was given; it was issued - a license to a person coming from Nicaragua. The person is actually living in Belize, but she studied in Nicaragua, just because they are presented with a bachelor's degree in pharmacy, that equates for them to be given a license. That is not so. We fought that; we had to hire an attorney to fight that, and now this case. We just feel that there is a total disrespect to our profession altogether."
"And besides that, do you think that there are political overtones?"
"Very much so, and we cannot run away from that. We cannot run away from the political tones. It can be political, but just do it properly. Just follow what are the guidelines."
The Ministry says it regrets that no attempt was made by the executive to discuss this issue but has invited the executive to meet to discuss at a mutually convenient time.