With Health Minister’s dismissal, Ghani and Noor face new confrontation

At the same time as the coronavirus crisis in the country, a new administrative crisis has emerged in the Ministry of Public Health. The Office of Presidential Affairs announced that the resignation of Ahmad Jawad Osmani, Minister of Public Health, was planned by President Ghani. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made the decision after arresting four employees of the Ministry of Health who were allegedly relatives of the minister. It now appears that a new confrontation has arisen between President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Atta Mohammad Noor, a member of the leadership committee of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council. Mr. Noor called the presidential palace decision “hasty”, “provocative”, “insulting”, “based on ethnocentrism” and “dictatorial”, and added that he was responding to the decision “heavily”. He went on to describe the move as “illegal” and said that he would take further steps to “defend their rights and restore the minister’s dignity” after the vote. Legal experts, while accepting the president’s authority to remove a minister, say that it is problematic from a legal point of view to direct an employee to resign. Health experts, however, believe that the health sector should be freed from political turmoil, which should not come in the way of providing health services to the people. It is worth mentioning that the Minister of Public Health is considered to be close to Atta Mohammad Noor.

Minister of Public Health Ahmad Jawad Osmani announced his dismissal on Thursday, December 31. He added that the Office of Presidential Affairs had informed him in an official letter that he had been fired. According to Mr. Osmani, he has not yet resigned, despite President Ghani’s insistence that he do so. However, part of the letter states that Mr. Ghani only did so after receiving a letter from the Minister of Public Health regarding his resignation. The letter reads: “The resignation of the Minister is approved and any administrator, under whose supervision widespread corruption occurs, is ultimately responsible for it. If there is any doubt, they should consider themselves dismissed”. Recently, however, it was reported that the Minister of Public Health had been removed from office by presidential decree.

Mr. Osmani also appeared in a video, calling the affair a “political conspiracy”. He added that governance in the country should be strengthened, but that this was not the way to do it. According to Mr. Osmani, President Ghani on Wednesday formally asked him to resign, but he refused to do so. However, President Ghani went to the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Health at the end of Thursday, December 31, and met with officials at the ministry. He said that all changes and appointments in the ministry must be made in accordance with the law, and without his signature, any list of appointments is invalid. Mr. Ghani added: “The recent situation in the Ministry of Public Health is really sad and an insult to everyone. The law must be respected and all issues must be implemented through the legal authorities. Rights must be given to those entitled to it, and those who have violated the law must be punished”.

The president stressed that no political person would come to the ministry, and that a supervisor and a professional manager would be appointed. Emphasizing on the need to create an atmosphere of cooperation, empathy and solidarity in the Ministry of Public Health, he stated that self-serving behavior cannot be allowed. According to Mr. Ghani, “the criteria are clear” and “the process of contracting over the last six months is being revised”. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani added that a clear electronic resource management system would be established, and that polio and other vaccine programs would be implemented by the ministry and other aimless parallel work will stop.

New Confrontation between Ghani and Noor

Together with the removal of the Minister of Public Health, a new confrontation has taken place between Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Atta Mohammad Noor, a member of the leadership committee of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council. On Thursday, December 31, Mr. Noor condemned the Presidential Palace’s action on his Facebook page. “We will respond heavily for any action taken before a fair trial and the proving of truth, resulting in hasty, provocative, insulting, dictatorial and ethnocentric decisions,” he wrote.

He took the position for the second time on Friday, January 1. After meeting with the chairman of the Balkh Provincial Council, members of the Jamiat-e-Islami party and some other influential people, commanders and personalities, Mr. Noor once again reacted to Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s action. He wrote on his Facebook page that the meeting discussed “extrajudicial and offensive moves regarding Ahmad Jawad Osmani”. Mr. Noor called the move “a great insult to a huge mass and the great political current of the Afghan people”. Furthermore, he stated that after “consultation”, “voting” and “exchange of views”, it was decided to give strong support “in order to defend the rights” and “restore the dignity of Ahmad Jawad Osmani”. Atta Mohammad Noor said that as next steps, he would bring together the views and proceedings in a cool and calm manner. It bears mentioning that Mr. Noor has also criticized some events involving the government in recent days.

Parliament: the presidential palace’s decision was hasty

Some members of the House of Representatives, while accepting the president’s action as part of his powers, have pointed out that the corruption in the Ministry of Public Health needed to be clarified first. Hujjatullah Kheradmand, deputy secretary of the House of Representatives, told 8 Subh on Friday, January 1, that the crime was an individual act and that the arrest of the public health minister in the corruption cases involving his relatives should have waited for before taking a decision. He added that although the president has the power, the recent action against Ahmad Jawad Osmani, including the president’s “Personal Protection Squad surrounding the Ministry of Public Health” and “insolence against the minister”, was in fact a prime example of “inappropriate means”.

He added that if the president was to deal with corruption in this way, the issue of Code 91 , one of the precautionary budgets of Ministry of Finance in which hundreds of millions of Afghani was misappropriated, should also be considered. However, Mr. Kheradmand clarified that the position of the parliament regarding the treatment of the Ministry of Public Health is to be clarified in the committee of chairpersons, with this committee deciding whether this issue would be included in the agenda of the plenary session of the House of Representatives. It is worth mentioning that the parliament had given a vote of confidence to Ahmad Jawad Osmani as the Minister of Public Health only a month ago.

Dismissal is one of the president’s powers of the president, but can it be forced?

Legal experts also believe that according to the articles of the constitution, “dismissal” of ministers is one of the powers of the president. Nasrullah Stanikzai, a legal expert and university professor, told 8 Subh on Friday that Article 64 of the constitution gives the president the authority to dismiss high-ranking government officials. He added that this article, with the exception of members of the Supreme Court, does not set a time limit for the terms of officials in the seats. According to Mr. Stanikzai, just as the president chooses ministers and nominates them to the House of Representatives, he can also “dismiss” them. Paragraph 11 of Article 64 of the Constitution states that “appointing Ministers, the Attorney General, the Director of the Central Bank, Head of the National Security Directorate and the President of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, with the approval of the House of Representatives [Wolesi Jirga], and acceptance of their dismissal and resignation” are some of the powers of the President.

However, the legal expert said that if the Minister of Public Health was forced to resign by the President, this action would have legal problems because, according to Mr. Stanikzai, just as work is considered a right, resignation is also a legal right of every government employee. He added that the resignation should not be an order, and if the claim of the Minister of Public Health is true, this issue would be legally problematic. It should be noted that ambiguities still exist in the letter of the Office of the Presidential Affairs, but at the end of this letter, the issue of “dismissal” and “removal” is explicitly mentioned.

Health Experts: Changes should not disrupt health care

Health experts believe that change in office is a principle of governance, but the process of change and transformation should not disrupt the provision of health services. Nawroz Haqmal, a health system specialist and professor at the University of London, told 8 Subh that apart from the political aspects of the work, recent changes to the coronavirus management structure in Afghanistan could improve the health care process. He added that although efforts had been made in recent days, these efforts have “not been very successful” compared to other countries. According to Mr. Haqmal, the increase in polio cases is another indication of problems in the country’s health sector. Nawroz Haqmal said that although about 90% of illnesses can be treated inside the country, patients try to go abroad for treatment and recovery, and these efforts are proof of the people’s distrust of the health sector.

According to him, corruption in the health sector had damaged the international community’s trust in the government in the past year. The health expert said that most of the ministries were divided based on political considerations and that making the ministries more technical in their outlook could strengthen the working process of the sectors. He added that President Ghani’s recent move to give the Ministry of Public Health a more technical approach and hold special meetings to combat coronavirus reflects the government’s attention and that the health sector, along with the education sector, needs to be excluded from political controversy in the future.

The Attorney General’s Office announced on Tuesday, December 29, that four employees of the Ministry of Public Health had been arrested on corruption charges. Ahmad Shokran Osmani, brother of the Minister of Public Health, Kawa Sarmastzada, the Minister’s cousin, Fraidon Sultani, advisor to the Covid-19 project, and Hamid Hamedi, financial advisor to the Ministry of Public Health, were arrested by the Attorney General’s Office. At the end of the day, the Ministry of Public Health issued a statement denying the detention of the employees, saying that they were merely present for the investigations. The declaration stated that the Ministry of Public Health was cooperating with the institutions responsible in the fight against corruption and that it did not consider family ties to be an obstacle to the administration of justice and the implementation of the law.

This is the second time that Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Atta Mohammad Noor have clashed. Earlier, the two sides disagreed on some issues, which then led to the ouster of Atta Mohammad Noor. In 2018, after reaching an agreement with Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, Mr. Noor said that his demands had been accepted and that he had resigned. However, controversy over the inclusion of the Balkh police chief has led to the resurfacing of differences between the two sides. Later, during the 2019 presidential election campaigns, although Atta Mohammad Noor emphasized his neutrality, people close to him campaigned for Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. It is worth mentioning that Ahmad Jawad Osmani is considered to be close to Atta Mohammad Noor and was nominated by him for the post of Minister of Public Health.