/ 21 September 2007

Manto newspaper ads meet stiff opposition

Advertisements placed in a number of national newspapers on Friday by the Health Department defending its Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, were a waste of taxpayers’ money, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) also criticised the advertisements.

The party was responding to three-quarter-page, full-colour adverts placed in newspapers including Business Day, the Star, the Cape Times and the Mercury.

Business Day reported that such an advert comes at a cost of R70 000. In the Star it would cost about R90 000 and one could expect to pay about R40 000 for such an advert in the Cape Times.

The advertisement relates to the case between the health minister and the Sunday Times during which she sought to compel the newspaper to return her medical records.

”This is a blatant waste of taxpayers’ money,” DA health spokesperson Mike Waters said. ”If the minister feels so strongly about defending herself against the Sunday Times‘s allegations, she should be paying the costs herself.”

He added: ”It is ridiculous that the department can find the money to place lavish adverts in the newspapers when hospitals and clinics go without basic lifesaving equipment due to lack of funds.”


The UDM on Friday said it was ”outrageous” for a senior official to use taxpayers’ money ”to publicly attack the judiciary”.

The advert includes a piece entitled ”Reflections on the judgment” signed by head of legal services for the department Sello Ramasela. It criticises the judgement handed down in the case between the minister and the Sunday Times. ”The judgement of Jajbhay J … constitutes a serious threat to one of the founding values of our Constitution, the rule of law.”

It points out contradictions in Jajbhay’s judgement, which Ramasela charges were then extended to the order handed down by the judge.

This is flanked by a piece entitled ”In defence of the National Health Act”. This, written by Health Director General Thami Mseleku, details the importance of provisions in the Act for patient confidentiality.

”As the Health Department, we celebrate the vindication of rights of patients to confidentiality by the high court and we salute all those who contributed in ensuring that the National Health Act does not indeed encompass the caring values of our democratic dispensation as contained in our Constitution,” the advert reads.

The Health Department on Friday defended its decision to run the adverts.

”It’s a significant case in relation to our work as a department; we wanted to make sure that the point was clear in relation to the rights entrenched in the [National Health] Act … the right to privacy and how medical records need to be kept or stored and secured,” said spokesperson Sibani Mngadi.

The five adverts cost R380 000, he said, adding that if the case had not dealt directly with the Act, his department would not have become involved.

‘Dangerous precedent’

The UDM called on President Thabo Mbeki to remove Tshabalala-Msimang from her position as health minister. ”A dangerous precedent has been set that respect for the independence of the judiciary is not required,” UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said.

He added: ”It is especially galling that the minister has not shown the political maturity and sense of accountability to admit of her own free will that she has been guilty of theft and unseemly behaviour.”

The minister has not commented publicly on the allegations of theft and alcoholism against her.

”We call upon President Mbeki to immediately remove the minister and her DG [director general] from their posts; they are both woefully ill-equipped for the job of looking after the media’s health,” Holomisa concluded.

According to a Business Day report, the Health Department tried to have the pieces placed on opinion pages of many newspapers but was unsuccessful, hence the decision to have the pieces published as advertisements. — Sapa