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No conflict of interest—Authority

Published: 
Monday, May 14, 2018
TRHA deputy chairman acts as chairman, CEO:

The appointments of Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) deputy chairman Ingrid Melville to the positions of acting chairman and acting CEO are being viewed as an avenue for corruption.

With Melville chairing board meetings while delegating over the day-to-day operations of the THRA, former health minister Dr Fuad Khan told the T&T Guardian that Melville’s triple role was “madness” and that whether the TRHA’s arrangement was legal or not, it was bad corporate governance.

THA minority leader Watson Duke said because of the positions Melville held, she was acting as an executive chairman and this should be stopped immediately. Executive chairmanship has been heavily debated in recent years and have been held locally by controversial figures such as Petrotrin’s Malcolm Jones, Udecott’s Calder Hart and EMBD’s Uthara Rao.

Melville was appointed as deputy chairman on June 15, 2016, was promoted to acting chairman with the departure of previous chairman Oswald Williams in June 2017.

In October 2017, Secretary of Health, Wellness and Family Division of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Agatha Carrington approved the appointment of Melville as acting CEO, as the substantive position had been vacant since 2015.

While the Regional Health Authority (RHA) Act does not speak to the board members’ active role in the daily operations, Section 60 of the Companies Act states that subject to the articles and any unanimous shareholder agreement, the directors of a company shall exercise the powers of the company directly or indirectly through the employees and agents of the company.

Khan said the TRHA governance system meant that no one could be held accountable for what happens in the TRHA. Khan said the reason for the separation of the board and management was that there could be checks and balances in place to ensure the institution is effectively operated.

Saying that the TRHA had always been a law unto itself, he charged that hiring and firing was done without proper procedure being followed. Even as the Board’s term ends on June 2, he said something should be done as it was not a good precedent to set.

“The Board and the chairman are supposed to hold the CEO accountable for whatever actions he or she takes. For instance, a CEO can be dismissed with three months notice, but if you’re the chairman and the CEO, who can dismiss the CEO if there is mismanagement. I am not saying that this is the case, but a CEO who is a chairman can pilfer stuff because who is she or he going to answer to? Under the RHA Act, the deputy chairman is the head of the Tenders Committee and he or she can use that to his or her’s advantage. You can basically thief galore with no checks and balances in place,” Khan said.

In a response, TRHA corporate communications manager Marie-Antoinette Mora said upon Williams’ resignation, Melville relinquished the duties of chairman of the Tenders Committee.

Director of Public Interest and Welfare, Allan Crooks, was appointed as interim chairman of the committee. Mora said prior to Melville’s appointment as acting CEO, she also chaired the Mental Health/HIV/Aids/Hyperbaric Committees and continues to do so as it is not statute bound. The RHA Act states that the CEO is an ex-officio member of the Board of Director but does not hold a vote. Mora said that having been granted approval to carry out the duties and functions of the CEO, Melville does not vote on any matter for which a vote is required at Board meetings.

“There is no conflict of interest given that at every instance when Board meetings are convened, Ms Melville declares a conflict of interest for all areas for which she would have given oversight or granted approval in her undertaking of the functions of the Chief Executive Officer of the TRHA,” Mora said.

Duke, the political leader of the Progressive Democratic Party, said he raised the issue previously but nothing was done. He said despite Melville sitting in the CEO’s seat, workers are still being paid late and no one has called on her to give an account or to put things in place to resolve the problem. Mora said the evaluation of the performance of the CEO is the responsibility of the Board of Directors, which Melville chairs. Duke said the situation should be stopped, even before the Board’s tenure end and that a policy should be put in place so that there is no repeat.

“We are totally against the idea that the sitting chairperson of the Board should be the CEO because it defeats the purpose of having checks and balances in place. What you have is an executive chairman, which is actually not good for democracy,” Duke said.

Former chairman of the South West Regional Health Authority Dr Lackram Bodoe said it presents a conflict of interest and that the RHA Act should be reviewed. Bodoe said there is supposed to be an arm’s length relationship.

THE APPOINTMENTS

On June 15, 2016, the current TRHA Board of Directors was appointed with Williams, the former THA secretary of Tourism, as chairman. On June 1, 2017, Williams resigned, leaving Melville to take up his roles. One of the issues the new Board faced was the vacant CEO’s position. The TRHA has been without a substantial CEO since Brent Murphy was fired in 2015. Nathaniel Duke and Godwyn Richardson have acted since then. Sources said that when the current board felt that neither were up to the task, the position was advertised. In 2017, the Board decided that in addition to Melville’s leadership of the board, she would also act as CEO. The decision was approved by Carrington by letter dated October 16, 2017. Mora said that approval was also granted by Executive Council minute #472 for the deputy chairman to perform the duties and responsibilities of the CEO from October 16, 2017, until a substantial CEO is appointed.

She said Executive Council’s approval superseded and nullified Carrington’s letter of approval.

THRA: DIFFICULT TO RECRUIT A CEO

Three years have passed since Murphy’s dismissals and despite the TRHA advertising the vacancy of the position, they have encountered difficulties in recruiting a CEO. The vacancy was advertised by the Board between September 6 to 20, 2016 and September 1 to 15, 2017.

Mora said the vacancy was advertised in Newsday, Trinidad Express, Tobago News, Tobago Today, Caribbean Jobs.com, the Tobago Information Technology Website, the TRHA website and the TRHA Facebook page. She said interviews were held on January 16, 2017 and January 31, 2018.

“Efforts to recruit and retain a Chief Executive Officer continue to be a challenge for successive Boards of the TRHA. In May 2017, the recommendation to engage the candidate selected by the Board of Directors to fill the vacant position of CEO was not accepted by the Tobago House of Assembly. In April 2018, the TRHA was unable to meet the demands of the candidate selected for the post of CEO of the TRHA and as such, the TRHA’s offer

 

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