Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Controversy Continues Over Theft of South African Health Minister's Medical Records

CAPE TOWN 16 October 2007 Sapa


Western Cape police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Tuesday scoffed at claims that police intended to arrest the editor and another senior staffer of the Sunday Times this week.

Western Cape commissioner Mzwandile Petros told journalists that though investigators had compiled a docket, the editor, Mondli Makhanya, and deputy managing editor Jocelyn Maker were not mentioned in it.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Makhanya and Maker would be arrested this week over the theft of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's medical records.

This followed a series of articles in the newspaper detailing her alcohol consumption while in a private hospital in Cape Town.

The hospital, Medi-Clinic, lodged the theft complaint.

Petros said Western Cape director of public prosecutions Rodney de Kock, who would have to decide if anyone was to be prosecuted, had not yet read the docket.

"As far as this docket is concerned, nobody's going to be arrested from the Sunday Times as of the 16th of October," he said.

"I don't know where this thing comes from that somebody from the Sunday Times is going to be arrested."

However he declined to say whether he could exclude the possibility that they could be arrested in future.

Earlier on Tuesday, NPA spokesman Tlali Tlali said there was "no truth" in reports that Makhanya and Maker would be arrested this week.

De Kock's office had received the docket, and would decide if anyone would be prosecuted and, if so, on what charges.

"To this end, we are in regular contact with the SAPS with whom we are interacting on this matter. No undertaking or official announcement regarding the outcome of this process has yet been made," Tlali said.

Also on Tuesday, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said she was waiting for the right moment to speak about media claims that she was an alcoholic and a kleptomaniac.

"When the time comes this minister will speak out," she told
reporters at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

"I will not be pushed into a corner to say things just because it is for public consumption. I have a legal opinion and I will stick to it."

The minister said she was following all the developments in her case.

"I am listening and watching everything that is being said,
consulting with my advisers."

The minister said she consulted her legal advisers daily on whether to sue the Sunday Times for defamation.

She said she had nothing to do with the high priority reportedly accorded the theft case.

Tshabalala-Msimang thanked the media because she said they had more inside information about the case than she did.

"I'm grateful that you write about this things so that you inform me in your media."

JOHANNESBURG 16 October 2007 Sapa


Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang plans to speak out about media allegations that she is an alcoholic and a kleptomaniac.

"When the time comes this minister will speak out,"
Tshabalala-Msimang said at a press conference at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto on Tuesday.

"I will not be pushed into a corner just because it is for public consumption."

The minister said she had "no feelings" about reports of police plans to arrest Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya and journalist Jocelyn Maker for the theft of her medical records.

"It has got nothing to do with my feelings. I have got no feelings about this. I wait for the issues to unfold."

The health minister was at the hospital with Gauteng health MEC Brian Hlongwa to hand over a delivery of baby bassinets.

This follows a media report earlier this month that showed newborn babies in the hospital being placed in cardboard boxes instead of cribs.

JOHANNESBURG 16 October 2007 Sapa


Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Gauteng health MEC Brian Hlongwa were mystified on Tuesday as to how newborn babies landed up in cardboard box cribs at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital.

"It's intriguing - the mystery. You could write a novel about it," said Hlongwa.

Tshabalala-Msimang said the situation "boggled her mind".

"Its just something unthinkable. It's difficult to conceptualise," she said.

"We'd really want to find out how do cardboard boxes find their way into maternity wards and turn into cots."

Earlier this month, media reports showed newborn babies in the hospital being placed in cardboard boxes instead of cribs.

On Tuesday, the minister and MEC visited the hospital to deliver baby bassinets that had been donated both privately and through the health department.

Hlongwa told reporters it was an "indisputable fact" that budgetary constraints had not caused the cardboard crib situation.

He said a multi-disciplinary task team set up by the Gauteng health department had discovered that while Baragwanath was meant to be a specialised hospital, an overload of people were coming there for general cases.

"Our people, if there is no doctor with a white coat and a
stethoscope, don't believe they are getting proper treatment, so they land up in Bara. Our people just rock up."

Hlongwa said staff shortages could have contributed to the
situation. At the core of the situation lay a management issue, he said.

"[There is] basic protocol that our staff is supposed to follow".

Hlongwa said a task team investigating the conditions in the
hospital should complete their work in two weeks time.

Earlier, Tshabalala-Msimang, dressed in high heels, multicoloured jacket and white frilled shirt, and Hlongwa, in a dark suit with orange tie and handkerchief, pushed a crib decorated with white fluffy poodles into the hospital's maternity ward.

Tshabalala-Msimang had a measure of success in getting a baby put into the crib to temporarily stop crying.

Later she told a press conference that statistics provided by the clinical heads for the maternal and neo-natal units indicated the hospital was providing "quality health services" and "fairly good clinical outcomes".

Tshabalala-Msimang also read out a letter from a private donor who had asked her to "humbly" accept their donation of bassinets "as a gift from the deepest wells of our hearts".

PARLIAMENT 16 October 2007 Sapa


ANC chairman Mosiuoa Lekota has defended the decision to suspend National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Vusi Pikoli, as well as the police probe into the alleged theft of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's health records.

He was responding in the National Assembly on Tuesday to criticism from a number of MPs, including Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Sandra Botha and African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe.

Botha said all reasonable South Africans were deeply concerned about recent developments relating to Pikoli and National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi.

President Thabo Mbeki's decision to suspend Pikoli and the
subsequent revelation that a warrant of arrest had been issued for Selebi raised serious questions about a possible violation of the constitutionally entrenched principle of separation of powers, in the sense that the executive might have undermined the independence of the NDPP, she said.

Meshoe questioned why, in view of the serious crime situation, a top investigator had been tasked with probing Tshabalala-Msimang's health records.

"We question why a top police officer has been appointed to
investigate a case that is a relatively minor offence in comparison to the thousands of murder and rape cases that go unresolved," he said.

Lekota said glib accusations that government was abusing power or manipulating instruments of power to arrest innocent people, were unacceptable. "We cannot accept that."

It was strange logic to say that when a crime was reported to
police, they should investigate that crime on the basis of whether they thought it "a big or important crime or not".

Any crime reported to police, if they had the ability to investigate it immediately, should be investigated.

"And whoever is guilty must be brought to book. We cannot say but why do you arrest this criminal so quickly? You should arrest the other criminals first. What is the meaning of that?"

Regarding Pikoli himself, Lekota said the executive had stated it had to be established "whether this individual is fit for the office he is serving".

Lekota was also asked by Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder why Pikoli had been considered "a very fit and proper person" when he was appointed to the position but was now suddenly alleged to be unfit.

Responded Lekota: "What government has said, is there has to be a check whether he's fit and proper for office. Whether he's fit or not fit will be decided by the inquiry."

The opposition often accused the executive of making inappropriate appointments.

"Why in this case, do you not want the executive to examine whether that appointment is appropriate or not. Why don't you want that?" he asked.

Koos van der Merwe of the Inkatha Freedom Party wanted to know whether it was "just and fair for an ANC political activist" - Frene Ginwala - to lead the investigation instead of a High Court Judge.

Lekota said he was quite satisfied that Ginwala "is a very
appropriate person".

The Defence Minister also railed at those criticising
law-enforcement agencies and claiming unjust attention from them.

It did not contribute to strengthening democracy when an individual was either arrested or charged for a crime, or even investigated by police, claimed abuse of state power or a conspiracy against themselves.

"If it's like that, all of us can commit crimes and then say 'there is a plot against me; there is a conspiracy against me'.

"We will no longer be able to investigate anybody. Therefore to say that where people are faced with possible litigation by the state; matters that will appear before the court, to attack the policing agencies is to become instruments of criminals."

"And I think that can only undermine our democracy. If any
individual is innocent, let them go to court and prove their innocence in the courts," Lekota said.

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