/ 29 November 2007

FXI: Gauteng trying to curtail health queries

The Gauteng government is trying to curtail opposition politicians’ investigations into public health facilities, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said on Thursday.

The FXI said a complaint by provincial minister of health Brian Hlongwa about Democratic Alliance (DA) member of the provincial legislature Jack Bloom’s visits to public health facilities in the province was ”problematic”.

Bloom has been visiting public health facilities to follow up on complaints by members of the public.

He is scheduled to meet with the provincial government’s Integrity Committee on Friday to discuss the complaint.

In July, Hlongwa apparently complained that Bloom was making ”private visits” to provincial health facilities and ”interrogating” staff members and officials of the Gauteng health department.

Hlongwa apparently said the visits were ”highly irregular and detrimental to the delivery of quality healthcare to the people of the province”.

He also allegedly said no member had the right to demand information from officials through unofficial or private channels.

The FXI said that Hlongwa had said members of the provincial legislature would have to inform the provincial minister’s office before visiting any facility for the purpose of gathering information.

”Hlongwa’s arguments are problematic, and seem to be an attempt to control Bloom’s activities in speaking to staff and patients at the province’s health facilities,” said the FXI.

The institute said attempts to circumscribe Bloom’s right to visit and ask questions at the public health facilities was an ”unreasonable limitation” on his, the health workers’ and the patients’ freedom of expression.

”Merely visiting public health facilities and asking questions is not, in and of itself, disruptive.”

”This is the latest in a series of incidents that confirm the FXI’s view that freedom of expression in the public health service is under pressure.” — Sapa