Political connections and lucrative appointments – that’s always been commonplace in Belize, almost as traditional as rice and beans. But that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow. Today, the Ministry of Health is in hot water after the announcement of a new Director of Drug Inspectorate, who just happens to be the daughter of U.D.P. Minister Erwin Contreras. That in itself isn’t necessarily big news, but the Pharmacists’ Association of Belize is fired up at M.O.H. because they claim the new director is completely under-qualified and proper appointment guidelines were ignored. To add insult to injury, the Association only learned about the appointment last week through the media. Mike Rudon has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
The Pharmacists Association of Belize has issued a fiery release accusing the Ministry of Health of making a mockery of their profession. The problem is the new Director of Drug Inspectorate, responsible for monitoring pharmacists, suppliers and controlled drugs to ensure that all is in order, and all are in compliance with the laws of Belize. They say the new Director, Danini Contreras, is not qualified for the post.
Hortence Humes, President, Pharmacists’ Association of Belize
“To be a drug inspector you have to be a registered pharmacist, have five years working experience, specialized training in drug inspection and an Associate’s or a diploma in pharmacy.”
“So where are those standards from?”
“When the post was created those were the qualifications that were required of a drug inspector.”
“And Ms. Contreras does not have those qualifications?”
“She’s not a registered pharmacist. We know that she has a Bachelor’s in Science and in Chemical Pharmaceuticals…”
“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.”
The Association is not upset at the creation of the post, and in fact have advocated for that post and the strengthening of laws to give that department teeth. But they are concerned at the lack of proper process behind the appointment, complicated by the political connections.
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. That’s not our intention by any means.”
The Association is angry because there are qualified and registered pharmacists who have been bypassed by what they call the back-door and under the radar appointment of Contreras.
“We have our schools of pharmacy and we have been graduating pharmacy students every year, and they have been getting their licenses to be registered pharmacists. At the moment we have pharmacists out there who are qualified and cannot find a job. They are working at Ready Call and these are pharmacists…qualified, registered pharmacists and cannot find a job and we have been advocating for posts to be created within the Ministry because there is the need for a drug inspector and a director of the drug inspectorate…that is a whole new need within the Ministry of Health and we have been advocating for that. So to say that there aren’t qualified persons there…I don’t believe that.”
“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.”
As we told you, the Association only learned of the creation of the post and the appointment of Contreras through a report in the news last week. Mike Rudon for News Five.