Dr Mariyam Shakeela failed to secure parliamentary consent today after MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and ally Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) voted against approving her as Minister of Health.
Of the 73 MPs in attendance, 61 voted against endorsing her reappointment to the cabinet while 11 voted in favour and one abstained.
PPM reportedly issued a three-line whip against approving Shakeela following a secret ballot at a parliamentary group meeting this afternoon.
The health ministry has been under fire following a series of protests over regional healthcare services and mishaps in Malé.
The state-owned Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) – long criticised for lack of qualified doctors and inadequate medical facilities – transfused HIV positive blood to a patient in February due to an alleged technical error.
In June, Fuvahmulah councillors called for Shakeela’s resignation after a case of stillbirth, an interrupted caesarean, and the death of a soldier on the island. A few weeks later, over 300 protestors demonstrated in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital.
Shakeela was up for parliamentary approval today for a second time after President Abdulla Yameen modified her initial portfolio as Minister of Health and Gender.
During a debate today on a report by the independent institutions committee – which narrowly recommended endorsing her appointment – PPM MP Mohamed Musthafa accused Shakeela of reversing a decision by the previous minister to raise wages for doctors under a 48-hour work week.
He claimed that Shakeela had reduced working hours to 45 hours and lowered salaries.
“The consequence was all specialists working at IGMH and doctors in hospitals in the atolls and health centres leaving the Maldives,” he said, adding that the health minister should bear responsibility for the alleged exodus.
Musthafa suggested that “circumstances have changed” since President Yameen nominated Shakeela for the post.
MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) also voted against the health minister while Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs voted in favour.
MDP MP Rozaina Adam accused the health ministry of taking measures against health sector employees who provide information to opposition MPs. Such workers were threatened with dismissal and accused of “pestering” the government, she claimed.
Rozaina also strongly objected to the committee being unable to interview Shakeela due to a Supreme Court ruling.
JP MP Hussain Mohamed meanwhile noted that appointing cabinet ministers was a prerogative of the president, suggesting that the parliament’s confirmation role was a formality.
The party decided to endorse her as Shakeela’s reappointment implied that the president must have had confidence in her ability to implement his health policy, he said.
Meanwhile, at a press conference yesterday, Shakeela said that the health sector had been strengthened despite “pressure” from elements within the government.
Shakeela insisted that she would not resign in the face of “obstacles and challenges” and said that President Yameen had not asked her to do so.
Shakeela contended that she had inherited a health sector “in ruins” with limited human resources and crumbling health centres and medical equipment.
She alleged that senior officials “within the system” were “obstructing” the ministry’s efforts.
Shakeela said she would “respect” the PPM MPs’ decision, but insisted that it would not be based on her performance.
Defending her track record, Shakeela said the ministry has formulated and submitted legislation to parliament on health services, health professionals, medical negligence, and medical devices.
The administrative framework of the health sector had been reviewed and revised, she said.
Shakeela said 70 percent of infrastructure had been damaged when the current administration took office, which has commenced repair work on 24 health centres at a cost of MVR14.1 million (US$914,397) while projects for repairing a further 49 centres were in the tendering process.
Contracts have been signed for constructing an 11-storey building for IGMH and upgrading the dialysis unit, she continued, adding that efforts were also underway to upgrade the Vilimalé health centre to a hospital.
Moreover, the ministry was purchasing equipment to upgrade the Hithadhoo and Kulhudhufushi regional hospitals to tertiary level, she said.
Among other ongoing projects were a quarantine facility and halfway house in Hulhumalé, a maternity waiting home in Kulhudhufushi, and newborn care centres.
A project to repair speedboats was also underway, Shakeela said, which has seen 13 out of 28 speedboats resume service. Four sea-ambulances have also been launched to fulfil a PPM campaign pledge, she noted.
While only 42 of 199 ambulances were functioning when she assumed office, Shakeela said 110 were now being used.
Noting that 80 percent of employees in the health sector were expatriates, Shakeela said the government was finding it hard to recruit professionals from overseas due to loss of confidence in the health sector by foreign workers.
A four-year long term plan for the health sector was being implemented, she noted.
Work has also begun on integrating a general practitioners service with the government’s ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme, Shakeela said.