Minister of health doesn’t need to be a doctor, Wells says

Amid criticism over his appointment as minister of health, Renward Wells yesterday defended his appointment saying one doesn’t have to be a doctor to serve as minister.

Wells pointed to other jurisdictions where the minister of health is leading the charge in the fight against COVID-19 and has no medical background.

“There are lots of countries around the globe at this point in time who have ministers of health who are not doctors and some of them have been doing quite well with the pandemic,” Wells said.

“We have Singapore that has an electrical engineer as the minister of health. I happen to be a mechanical engineer and I think the response by Singapore in regards to how it’s handled the COVID-19 pandemic has been excellent.”

Wells received his instruments of appointment at Government House yesterday from Governor General C.A. Smith.

His appointment came two months after former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands resigned.

“The prime minister has spoken as to what he would like to see me do within the confines of the Ministry of Health,” Wells said.

“He has tasked me to be able to ensure that we move that ministry forward in a very progressive way and I intend to do just that.”

During his two months as minister of health, Minnis received heavy criticism for not making himself available to answer questions from the media or give an audience to stakeholders like the Consultant Physician Staff Association (CPSA), which has expressed disappointment with their inability to meet with Minnis since he took on the portfolio.

Wells yesterday gave his assurance to make himself available to the press and meet with the CPSA saying, “I will meet with all of those individuals who are a part of the mandate and the portfolio that I would have been given.

“You have to respect the fact that the prime minister has been minister of health for about six weeks, but he’s also the prime minister of the country and he’s also the individual tasked with dealing with this pandemic at that point in time. And he’s still tasked with dealing with the pandemic as the head of the competent authority. So, he would not have had time to be able to meet with them in that time frame. I am here now. I will meet with them, hear their concerns and seek to address them going forward.”

Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes assumed the portfolio of transport and local government.

Foulkes said while there are some aspects like the Met Department and the Road Traffic Department, he has handled the aspects of both roles before and is confident of his ability to juggle both ministries.

But with layoffs ongoing in various sectors, Foulkes was asked about how the Ministry of Labour is addressing the increasing number of unemployed Bahamians.

“We are talking to employers throughout the country to encourage them to maintain the highest level of employment possible,” Foulkes said.

“I am very pleased as minister of labor that the government has decided to extend the unemployment benefit by 13 weeks.”

Foulkes added, “We are going to do all that we can. The minister of finance will probably speak more specifically to the financial situation. But we are going to do all that we can to ensure that each Bahamian family who is affected by COVID-19, has some level of support.”

During his national address on Sunday, Minnis called Wells a “doer” and “one who knows how to get things done”.

This is Wells’ third Cabinet appointment, since the Free National Movement was elected in 2017.

He first served as minister of agriculture and marine resources until the following year when he was moved to the ministry of transport and local government.

Minnis said Wells will be charged with working with public health officials on boosting immunizations and vaccinations for various childhood diseases as well as working with public health officials to improve readiness for a variety of public health threats, including potential pandemics.

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