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DA: Statement by Mike Waters, Democratic Alliance shadow minister of health, on the Frere baby deaths and accountability under the ANC (18/07/2010)

18th July 2010

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Public Service Commission (PSC) takes three years to respond to DA letter over Frere Hospital deaths
PSC letter reveals that Eastern Cape Health MEC is sitting on PSC report that could indict former ANC councillor responsible for orchestrating Frere cover-up.
Saga reveals ANC's refusal to create culture of consequences and accountability





In the past week I have received a letter from the Public Service Commission. It stands out as one of the most dismaying pieces of correspondence that I have seen in the more than a decade that I have spent in Parliament. I want to explain why this letter says so much about the way that the ANC treats voters in South Africa - how it illustrates the systematic undermining of democratic institutions in this country, the ANC's utter disregard to the principles of accountability and good governance, and its disregard for the poor and the vulnerable, who depend on the public service for their health security.

A copy of the letter follows below.

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Little over three years ago, South Africans were shocked by a Daily Dispatch exposé on the appalling situation at Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape, where reporters had uncovered that hundreds of newborn babies were dying every year. The episode led to the dismissal of two individuals: deputy health minister Noziziwe Madlala-Routledge and medical superintendent, Dr. Nokuzola Ntshona. The former had declared the situation at Frere a "national emergency", in defiance of the typically denialist stance adopted by President Mbeki. The latter had blown the whistle on the affair to begin with, and was dismissed after highlighting the problem in a letter to Director General in the Presidency Frank Chikane. On the other hand, the hospital manager responsible not only for the management and resourcing of the Frere Hospital, but also for the systematic campaign aimed at covering up the scandal, was shielded from any punishment. Luvuyo Mosana, a former ANC councillor, with no medical or managerial qualifications at all, had been cadre deployed to the position in 2005; to date, no action has been taken against him.

The failure of the ANC government to remove or institute charges against Mosana, and simultaneous dismissal of Madlala-Routledge and Ntshona, led to my requesting the Public Service Commission (PSC) to launch an urgent investigation into Mosana. The DA laid a complaint with the PSC on Wednesday 19 September, 2007. Up until last week, I had not heard back.

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That is the context. Now, nearly three years later, the Public Service Commission has at last responded to my letter. To repeat: three years later! That fact alone should sound alarm bells about the state of a supposedly functional, supposedly independent democratic institution. But the content of the PSC's correspondence puts its dilatory timing into the shade. It reveals that the investigation by the PSC into Mr. Mosana has been completed (when, it doesn't say) but that MEC for Health in the Eastern Cape, Mr. Phumulo Masuelle, has received the report and has done nothing with it. The MEC, in other words, has stalled the investigation, by simply sitting on the PSC report. And the reply states that due to the need to ‘seek further legal guidance' the PSC cannot make its findings public. In essence, the report will remain a secret.

Needless to say, there are numerous problems with all of this. Four stand out in particular. The first is grounded in the principle of accountability. Why is it that the individual most intimately involved in attempts to cover up the Frere debacle has still not been the subject of any sanctions? How can we, the public, be certain that MEC Masuelle is following the recommendations of the investigation if we do not know what it has found? And where is the decisive action that demonstrates to other government officials that a repeat of Frere will not be tolerated?

The second problem relates to the legal mandate of the PSC. What faith can the public have in the PSC in the future? As a matter of course there should be no reason for public institutions to take years to respond to a piece of correspondence, but why is it that the letter relating to the investigation into one of the major scandals of recent years has been suppressed like this? What does it suggest about the attitude of the PSC that it takes three years to investigate and report back upon a complaint based on hundreds of infant deaths? The very legitimacy of the PSC is dependent on the thoroughness with which it conducts investigations, and its response to Frere demonstrates disconcerting lethargy.

Thirdly, the age-old twin ANC problems of cadre deployment and cadre protection stand in stark relief, following this episode. Three years later an unqualified cadre remains in his deployed position; and he remains protected by the ANC government. The ANC's much-vaunted policy of cadre deployment has never been dealt a more obvious knock-out punch than the Frere Hospital debacle and its aftermath.

Finally, we need to give attention to the nature of the initial wrongdoing. How can the families of the babies who died at Frere ever have a sense of justice when the PSC, and the Eastern Cape MEC for Health, merely compound the overall impression of a cover-up?

I will request an explanation from the PSC, and will make an application, via the Promotion of Access to Information Act, for the public release of the report's contents. I will also ask my colleagues in the Eastern Cape provincial legislature to interrogate MEC Masuelle on his failure to take action on this matter. Tragedies such as the one that befell Frere, must never be allowed to happen again, but the contents of this piece of correspondence do nothing but add further insult to the principle of justice in the public sector.

 

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