Interim RMI Health Secretary Designated Amidst Investigation

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Government chief secretary Nemra assumes responsibilities

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 24, 2014) – A major investigation into allegations that Marshall Islands Ministry of Health workers accepted bribes for contract awards has prompted the Public Service Commission to take the unprecedented action of designating the government’s chief secretary as interim secretary of health.

The extraordinary appointment was approved by President Christopher Loeak and Public Service Chairwoman Marie Maddison and highlights the gravity of the problems at the ministry.

"The duties and responsibilities of secretary of Health are now under direct control of the chief secretary for an interim period," said Chief Secretary Casten Nemra on Thursday. His special appointment is through Feb. 15.

The chief secretary post is the highest civil service job in the country, overseeing all government ministries and agencies.

"During this period, I will continue to conduct the responsibilities of the Office of the Chief Secretary with particular focus on the challenging issues within the Ministry of Health in working closely the president and the cabinet, through Minister of Health David Kabua, the Public Service Commission, Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders," Nemra said.

The chief secretary said there are "specific tasks requiring immediate attention and administrative remedy (at the Ministry of Health)."

Key issues that have prompted strongly worded criticism of the government in the parliament since it opened its first session of 2014 on January 6 include a vacant secretary of health post for nearly a year and a critical shortage of doctors at Majuro Hospital.

Health Minister Kabua told parliament earlier this week in response to questions from opposition senators that there was no movement on a previously discussed option of hiring hospital managers from abroad.

Instead, the government aims to bring in several Marshall Islands doctors who are working overseas and an American doctor with experience in the Marshall Islands to consult on possible solutions to the current crisis at the main hospital in the Marshall Islands.

In the meantime, seven Ministry of Health administrators and staff and one Ministry of Finance official have been put on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into fraudulent bids involving orders of hospital equipment, medical supplies and medicines. Officials in both the Auditor General’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office indicated this week they expect to file criminal charges in the High Court in the next few days. The investigation has been underway since late December.

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