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Our View: Personal feud raises questions about professional judgement

Health Minister Popi Kanari launching the campaign on Tuesday
Health Minister Popi Kanari

Health minister, Dr Popi Kanari has committed a grave error in engaging in a public row with the ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr Christina Yiannaki. She has allowed her personal feelings to get the better of her and determine her behaviour towards a person with whom she is supposed to have a working relationship. The issue she has raised with her rather unprofessional behaviour is whether the judgment of someone unable to control her emotions can be trusted, handling important state matters.

There was bad blood between the two women as they had both applied for the post of permanent secretary some eight years ago and Yiannaki was given the job. Kanari appealed against the decision, questioning the degree qualifications of Yiannaki but her appeal was rejected. Her degrees had reportedly been checked by the Public Service Commission, when she had been hired at the ministry in 1984, while in 2021 the auditor-general investigated them, after receiving a complaint from a party leader, and found “there were no suggestions that they might have been forged.”

The matter resurfaced in the last week or so, when a parody account on Twitter started posting comments alleging that Yiannaki’s academic qualifications were fake, among other things. These were wild allegations that should have been ignored, yet the health minister sent a letter to her permanent secretary urging her to take specific action to end “any malicious attack she was under in social media.” Yiannaki, in her written response, said she had no intention of following the minister’s advice.

Instead of letting the matter go, Kanari sent a second letter on Tuesday, claiming, that the allegations “threaten the very operation and prestige of the whole ministry,” and “create shadows about alleged cover-ups of illegalities and strange practices.” The minister said she had a duty to protect the ministry “against any criticism, justified or not, from wherever it stems, eponymous or anonymous.” Since when does the ministry respond to every bit of gossip on social media?

She urged Yannaki, yet again, to make public all her degree qualifications, to prove they were not fake, and to arrange to speak publicly in English, in order to quash rumours that she could not speak English, which is a requirement for the job. By asking her to do this, the minister was not just implying that the allegations may have been accurate, but also seeking Yiannaki’s public humiliation, instead of publicly backing her permanent secretary, or at least keeping quiet about the matter.

The minister has gone out of her way to turn a non-issue into a matter of national importance, by leaking the letters she sent Yiannaki to the press and keeping this non-issue alive – all because she was guided by personal animosity. What other decisions has she taken which were shaped by her personal feelings?

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