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Dr Patrick Amoth, the longest-acting Health director general

 Acting Health Services Director General Dr. Patrick Amoth. [Samson Wire, Standard]

His name has been on the minds of Kenyans since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that tested the country's health preparedness. And when the government advertised his job for the third time Kenyans took to social to protest and now pundits think something is amiss with Kenya's public service; acting for five years?

Dr Patrick Amoth, the acting Director General for Health leads a technical team that runs the country's health services. At the height of Covid-19, he led experts at the Health Ministry to save the lives of Kenyans and prevent the spread of the virus.

From maintaining presence when the Health Cabinet Secretary gave daily updates on Covid-19 during media briefings, the Ag Director General (DG) was a technical advisor to then CS Mutahi Kagwe and became the face of hope.

But despite his service to the country, there are questions why President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration and now the Kenya Kwanza government have been reluctant to confirm him in the position of Director General.

Last week the Public Service Commission (PSC) advertised the position, with candidates expected to submit application latest by April 9, 2024. The advertisement canceled an earlier one made in February, but reasons were not provided.

“Applications are invited from qualified persons for the position shown below...”V/NO 137/2024...post Director General for Health,” read the advertisement in part.

During an interview on KTN News on Wednesday, Health CS Susan Nakhumicha said advertisement for DG position has been marred by interest. And the Health Act limits the position to only medical officers, she said. 

“To clarify, the advert does not exclude him (Amoth). He can apply for the position,” she said.

“If you look at the advert, the space has been opened and expanded, and anyone with a course in medical field can apply. Amoth is applying as well,” she added.

Nakhumicha expressed confidence in Amoth saying he has adequate knowledge and experience for the DG position. 

“I have confidence given the experience he has, he should emerge as the best unless he fumbles during the interview, but I have confidence that he has adequate experience, and he should be ahead of the pack,” she said.

If law allowed, she said she would have absorbed him for the position. 

“...my hands are tied by law, in fact, I wanted to confirm him the day I was sworn in office, from Mutahi Kagwe, three-quarters of people who sat on the table were in an acting capacity," she said. 

The position was also advertised in June 2022. 

Amoth was assigned the role of acting DG in 2019 taking over from Dr John Masabibi.

He remains a key technical advisor to the Ministry of Health and Government.

A source at the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Board (KMPDC) said Amoth is qualified for the job, as he is a licensed medical doctor, with a specialty in obstetric and gynecology. 

Before being appointed, he was Director Public Health, at the Ministry, and between 2018 and 2019, he was in charge of intergovernmental relationships where he coordinated activities between national and county governments.

Amoth also served as a medical superintendent at Kiambu Level Five Hospital, where he revamped maternal and child health, and among initiatives he launched was ensuring no woman dies during childbirth because of lack of blood.

Since independence, the Ministry has had the position of Director of Medical Services, that was re-organised and made the ministry's lead technical office and renamed Director General by the Health Act in 2017 - below the DG are directors of thematic areas of Health services working with the DG. Some of those roles include health, financing, service delivery, health information, data, health workforce and health infrastructure.

The first person to hold Director General’s title was Dr Masabibi, who served until 2019, before Amoth was appointed in an acting capacity. 

“Someone might be qualified, but other elements like regional balance, disqualifies them. I am hoping he (Amoth) shall be confirmed because he has done well and actualized a lot of policies,” said the KMPDC source.

In June 2021, Amoth was elected to chair the World Health Organisation (WHO) executive board, succeeding Dr Harsh Vardha from India.

He currently represents Kenya in the World Health Assembly.

“Amoth is the most qualified technical person in MoH. There's no one experienced more than him,” added the source.

Seme MP Dr James Nyikal, said its is time the country had a substantive DG.

"It is long overdue. What I know is that it is in bad faith for someone to act for so long, in an acting position and capacity," said Dr Nyikal who is a member of the National Assembly Health Committee.

The MP is a former Director of Medical Services.

"Can a person who has served for so long work properly?" Posed the MP.

Constitutional lawyer Kipkoech Ng’etich said according to the laws that govern employment, a person should not act in office for more than three months.

"For purposes of good corporate governance, positions like DG, CEO, and managing director should be filled within the shortest time possible," said Ng'etich.

Putting Amoth in acting capacity for the five years violates Article 10 of the Constitution on good governance, transparency, accountability and principles of public service, he said.

“How somebody remains acting should be explained by Ministry of Health, or when the ministry is not able to explain, the President should take leadership and direct ministry to appoint DG as soon as possible otherwise it's a symptom of violation of good governance principles,” said the lawyer.

He argues that the matter should be flagged as an anomaly by the Auditor General.

“Everyone knows that Dr Amoth is qualified. If he is qualified, he should be given the position because he is qualified. If he is not qualified, somebody else should be given the position,” said Ng'etich.

Executive Edge Consulting Limited CEO Esther Mwangi, a human resource expert said as per the Employment Act, someone should not act for more than 12 months.

“Dr Amoth’s case is interesting because he has acted long. He shouldn't have acted for two years before replacement," she said.

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