Turmoil surrounding the leadership style of Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) CEO Ameena Ali has led to the resignation of six senior managers in the last month, while another three are now seeking compensation packages to end their contracts early, Guardian Media Ltd has learned.
The legal proceedings against the ERHA could see the authority having to pay out $3 million to bring an early end to the tenures of three senior managers, among them ERHA general manager of human resources Tricia Leela, legal documents obtained by GML indicate. Attorney Vanessa Gopaul, who represents Leela, has sent a letter to ERHA chairman Dr Stephen Bhagan seeking over $1 million in exchange for her client’s premature termination of her tenure. GML obtained a copy of the letter.
But RHA sources say Leela is not the only manager seeking what many at the authority are now calling “constructive dismissal” packages. Manager of legal and corporate affairs Gabrielle Gellineau and the manager of cost and management accounting are also requesting similar compensation for their early departure.
Sources at the authority, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, said over the past month, six managers left due to issues with Ali’s management style. Three of them resigned, two county medical officers of health transferred and one chose not to renew his contact. GML understands that all of the legal letters matters dealing with the departure of the former employees raised “a deterioration in relations” with Ali as the “reason for job dissatisfaction.”
One employee said, “This woman does not know how to speak or treat us…it is as if we are prisoners…speaking to an animal is much better than the way she speaks to us.” In December 2013, reports surfaced that the ERHA board, advised by Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam, had taken a decision to fire Ali as CEO. At the time, issues of her strained relationship with employees were also raised.
However, Health Minister Fuad Khan stepped in and is reported to have reprimanded directors of the board for not following due process, and Ali was reinstated. Ali was appointed on November 1, 2013, and sources said she is on a customary six-month probationary period which ends on April 1. Contacted yesterday, however, Khan said Ali was being targeted because she was following rules and procedures. This, he said, did not do down well with the managers and directors.
Khan said the results were there, and directed GML to acquire the audited HR report which Ali had ordered. He also dismissed the claims made by the departing managers, saying it was all in reaction to the findings of the audit. Khan said Cabinet had also taken a decision to revoke the appointments of several ERHA directors. “The revocation letters have not yet been drafted, but the decision was taken,” he said.
In a separate letter highlighting her reasons for seeking an early departure from the authority, Gabrielle Gellineau, an attorney, wrote on her own behalf as GM of legal and corporate affairs. The letter said the CEO told her she should “advise” that one Rennick Spencer should be fired. But after investigations, Gellineau said she found there were no grounds for dismissal.
Gellineau also catalogued a breakdown in relations with Ali over discussions about another employee. The letter reads: “Ms Ali told me if she was CEO when that decision was made and I gave her that advice, she would have fired me. Ms Ali repeated that statement approximately three times. Ms Ali then told me that I felt I was on holiday…”
In a separate legal letter from firm KR Lalla and Company, the lawyers took the RHA to task after a board paper, BOD/2014/031, said the manager of cost and accounting, Sushma Brahma Persad, had verified funding for a project at the Sangre Grande hospital. But KR Lalla and Co wrote that their client, Ms Persad, “categorically denies doing so.” The letter reads: “Your actions mentioned above are not only dishonest and unethical but attempts and is designed to implicate our client in a fraudulent misrepresentation to the board.”
Insiders also raised concerns over Ali’s qualifications for the post of CEO. An advertisement on the vacancy list for the post shows a postgraduate degree as a minimum requirement. But questions have been raised as to whether Ali possesses such a qualification. Contacted by phone yesterday, Ali refused to confirm whether she has postgraduate qualifications. “I am sure you can understand that I cannot comment without approval of the board,” she said.
Pressed further on her qualifications for the sake of accuracy, she said, “You can do whatever you want.” But Khan vouched for Ali, saying she obtained the PG equivalent, a legal education certificate from the Hugh Wooding Law School. However, online checks of the law school’s list of graduates from the years 1975 to 2013 did not find the name Ameena Ali appearing. The law school also told GML it does not offer postgraduate degrees. The LEC offered is a diploma and allows those who have attained a law degree to practise.
Manager ISIT: resigned
Manager OSH: resigned
General manager hospital services: resigned
Manager, financial accounting: contract not renewed
2 county medical officers of health: transferred