/ 25 September 2007

Will Public Protector probe Manto ads?

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Public Protector to complain about the Health Department’s advertisements placed in various newspapers last week to protest against a judge’s failure to interdict the Sunday Times over its reports on the medical records of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Three-quarter-page, full-colour advertisements were on Friday placed in newspapers including Business Day, the Star, the Cape Times and the Mercury.

Mike Walters, health spokesperson for the DA, said the party wants the Public Protector to investigate whether the advertisements constitute unauthorised, fruitless and wasteful expenditure in terms of the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

”It is completely unacceptable that when South Africa faces so many urgent health crises, including the disintegration of public hospitals, HIV/Aids and XDR-TB [extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis] that money should be sent on such a frivolous and pointless exercise,” Waters said.

He said the adverts cost an estimated R380 000 and attacked Judge Mohamed Jajbhay for his ruling last month refusing to interdict the Sunday Times from publishing comments based on Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records.

”The PFMA stipulates clearly that expenditure of departmental funds can only be justified if it relates to the core business of government,” he said. ”Yet the Sunday Times report on the minister’s medical records reflected on her personal conduct while on sick leave, and while she was not acting in any way in her official capacity.

”Furthermore, the department itself admits in the text of the advert that the minister was ‘litigating in her private capacity’ when she took this matter to court. It seems clear, then that the advert has nothing to do with the department’s business.”


The advertisement included a piece entitled ”Reflections on the judgment” signed by head of legal services for the department Sello Ramasela. It criticised 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 pointed out contradictions in Jajbhay’s judgement, which Ramasela charged were then extended to the order handed down by the judge.

This was flanked by a piece entitled ”In defence of the National Health Act”. Written by Health Director General Thami Mseleku, it detailed the importance of provisions in the Act for patient confidentiality.

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.

The Public Protector has, in the past, condemned wasteful expenditure on adverts. On October 31 2004, the Gauteng department of health placed an advertisement in City Press newspaper paying tribute to deceased KwaZulu-Natal minister of housing Dumisani Makhaye.

The protector said: ”An advertisement in a newspaper is a very expensive, albeit effective, way of promoting the business of a government department. It can only be justified if such expenditure complies with the provisions of the PFMA.”

The United Democratic Movement on Friday said it was ”outrageous” for a senior official to use taxpayers’ money ”to publicly attack the judiciary”. — I-Net Bridge, Sapa