LALIT sent a letter to the Ombudsman, a Constitutional officer, to register a complaint about a Health Ministry official barring access to the Addison Report that was commissioned by Government in 2001 and published in 2002. He is blocking it by administrative means. This is a classic case of the need for the Freedom of Information Act that the present Government, in its electoral manifesto, promised. The Report is being blocked from the public, and even from organizations working on the dangers of asbestos housing, like LALIT. The Ombudsman will no doubt open an investigation. Here is our letter with its appendices (some abbreviated for the purposes of the article).
To the Ombudsman
I write in the name of Joint LALIT-Asbestos house inhabitant Committees in some 50 Cité EDC, a body of persons not incorporated, to lodge a complaint regarding maladministration in the Civil Service: the Ministry of Health is denying us access to a copy of the Report on the Assessment of the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius by Mr John Addison, Consultant of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (2001). This Report was clearly and explicitly made public by the government in 2002:
1 The said report was publicly released by a Cabinet decision on 19 April 2002. (see http://pmo.govmu.org/English/Pages/Cabinet%20Decisions%202002/Cabinet-Decisions-taken-on-19-April-2002.aspx)
2 The government held a press conference to release the Report to the press in 2002 (See Annex 1 containing a Hansard transcription of the relevant PQ and answer).
3 A copy of the said report was to be remitted to the National Assembly library according to this Hansard transcription.
The Addison Report is still of immediate national importance as it concerns health dangers of asbestos housing and specific recommendations to address these dangers. The present Government itself admits that removal of asbestos housing is a question of national public health. The Ministry of Housing and Land even released an official communique on 22 July 2015 to announce a “grand projet d’envergure” as the Communique goes on to state: “L’amiante etant un materiau toxique, le Ministre du Logement a plaidé pour un plan de desamiantage.” (See Annex 2)
Here is a chronology outlining our efforts to obtain a copy of the Addison Report:
1 On Wednesday 19th September, 2018, I went in person to the Ministry of Health library at Emmanuel Anquetil Building and was referred to Dr. Earally of the Occupational Health and Safety Unit. I met Mr Earally and he confirmed that he did have the Report, but could not arrange for photocopying facilities unless he got the green light from the Permanent Secretary. He requested me to write to Mr. Nursing, Senior Chief executive so that these arrangements could be made.
2 I wrote to the Senior Chief executive both by registered post on the 27 September and by email (see Annex 3). I rang his Secretary to make sure that he had received my mail, and his Secretary confirmed that he had. I was told I would be contacted in due course.
3 I went to see Mr. Nursing in person a week later, and succeeded in meeting him, but he told me that he needed “referencing” to the Cabinet decision relating to the release of the Report before he presented my request to the Permanent Secretary. I informed him that the Cabinet decision was on the Prime Minister's Office website. I also sent him a second email on 3rd of October (the same day) to confirm with him that the 19th of April 2002 Cabinet decision is available online on the Prime Minister's Office website and gave him the link to assist him with this “referencing” (Annex 4 – lower part) .
4 I received a reply from Mr. Nursing on the 4th of October stating that my request is being “processed” and that he would “revert” to me in “due course” (Annex 4 - Upper part.).
5 As from that date, I have contacted his Secretary on several occasions to receive a reply. She always politely informs me that Mr. Nursing is unavailable and dutifully takes my mobile number and assures me that Mr. Nursing will be informed of my call.
6 I contacted Mr. Earally by telephone on the 16th of October. He informed me that my request is still being “processed”.
Seven weeks have passed since my initial and I have not received a reply from Mr Nursing to date.
The Report on the Assessment of the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius by Mr John Addison is unavailable on the government portal. The only document available on the Ministry of Health website is a National Action Plan on Asbestos (2002), a government plan following the Addison Report which might or might not include recommendations made by John Addison (we are not in a position to compare the two as we have no access to the Addison Report). On Wednesday 19th September morning, I went in person to the National Archives to request access to a copy of the report. Staff there searched the Archives but could not find a copy. LALIT member Ragini Kistnasamy also checked with the National Library and they could also not find a copy. It seems they were never given one. All this to say that the Ministry of Health has taken no steps to release the Addison Report to the public.
I would be grateful if you could open up an investigation to ascertain whether any decision by the Ministry of Health to deny us access to the Addison Report when a Cabinet decision has released it is:
(a) contrary to law; and/or
(b) based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact; and/or
(c) unreasonably delayed; and/or
(d) otherwise unjust or manifestly unreasonable.
We call on you to ensure that:
1 Any decision of the Ministry of Health to reverse or cancel the 2002 Cabinet decision be annulled,
2 The omission be rectified i.e that we get immediate access to a complete copy of the Addison Report;
3 Any practice on which the act of denying us/the public public information be altered.
We remind you that asbestos housing is a danger to the health of inhabitants of such housing and thus recommendations made by the Addison Report are of urgent importance.
Rajni Lallah, for Joint Committees of LALIT - Asbestos House inhabitants
8 November, 2018
Debate 9: Oral answers 2002
ASBESTOS - HEALTH HAZARDS - SURVEY
(No. B/250) Mr M. Dowarkasing (Third Member for Curepipe & Midlands) asked the Minister of Environment whether he will state if a study regarding the use of asbestos has been conducted …
The Minister of Health & Quality of Life (Mr A. Jugnauth): … A ministerial committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance was set up in July 2001 to assess the health dimension of asbestos in Mauritius. … Mr John Addison, a Scientific Consultant in Mineralogy, Occupational Hygiene and Environmental Health and Safety, was designated by the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation to undertake the survey. … we have set up a ministerial committee to look into the recommendations contained in the report of Mr Addison. ….The report is available. …
Mr Dulloo: The Minister has said that the report is available. Is there any impediment that it be circulated to hon. Members, so that we could make suggestions and draw attention wherever necessary?
Mr A. Jugnauth: It has been made public at a press conference. We can place a copy of the report in the Library of the National Assembly. …
[With Coat of Arms of Mauritius]
REPUBLIC OF MAURITIUS
Ministry of Housing and Lands,
Office of the Vice-Prime Minister
Communiqué – Désamiantage des maisons EDC/Ex-CHA
Le Vice-Premier Ministre et Ministre du Logement et des Terres, Showkutally Soodhun a eu une réunion avec le Ministre des Finances, Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, en présence du Secrétaire Financier, ce matin.
L’objectif de la réunion était de venir de l’avant avec des solutions pour des familles qui résident dans des maisons EDC/Ex-CHA, contaminées à l’amiante. Le Vice-Premier Ministre, Showkutally Soodhun a expliqué que 2137 maisons EDC/Ex-CHA, à travers 59 endroits du pays contiennent de l’amiante. Construites dans les années 60, ces maisons se trouvent principalement dans des cités ouvrières. L’amiante étant un matériau toxique, le Ministre du Logement a plaidé pour un plan de désamiantage. Le Ministre des Finances a agréé à cette demande et il déboursera le budget nécessaire pour enlever de l’amiante dans ces maisons EDC/Ex-CHA.
Pour la bonne marche de ce grand projet d’ envergure, un comité national a été mis sur pied. Une première réunion sous la présidence du Vice -Premier Ministre, Showkutally Soodhun aura lieu la semaine prochaine. Les Ministères de la Santé, de l’Environnement, des Finances, des Infrastructures Publiques, ainsi que des ONGs et d’autres associations participeront à cette réunion.
Ministère du Logement et des Terres, 22 Juillet 2015
-----Original Message----- From: R. Lallah [For LALIT]
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2018 12:41 PM
Subject: Request for copy of Addison Report
To the Senior Chief executive, Ministry of Health
Emmanuel Anquetil Building, Port Louis
27 September, 2018
Dear Mr. Nursing,
I would be grateful if I could obtain a copy of the “Report on the Assessment of the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius” that was released to the public by a Cabinet Decision of 19th April 2002. (See below the extract of the said Cabinet Decision)*. I have already contacted the Occupational Health Unit and they do have a copy. I have tried the National
Archives, but they were not given a copy (even though the law requires that a copy be given to them) and are thus unable to assist me.
I, as a LALIT member, am active in grassroot joint LALIT- asbestos house inhabitant committees in some 50 EDC sites in the country and am requesting this document for use by the committees so that we can diseminate official information about asbestos so that inhabitants are aware of the dangers, precautions and recommendations made in the said report. …
Thanking you in advance,
*Prime Minister's Office
Cabinet Decisions – 19 April 2002
1. Cabinet has agreed to:-
(a) the release of the Report on the Assessment of the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius by Mr John Addison, Consultant of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation; …
From: Public Health MOH
Sent: Thursday, October 04, 2018 11:48 AM
To: R. Lallah
Subject: Re: Cabinet Decision on Asbestos Report
Re: your email below.
Your request is being processed. we shall revert to you in due course.
To the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Mr Nursing
3rd October, 2018
Dear Mr Nursing,
This morning in our brief exchange, you informed me that there seems to be some problem with the referencing of the Cabinet Decision taken on 19th April, 2002 for the release of the “Report on the Assessment of the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius” which you inferred was the reason why the Ministry has not acceded to my request yet. This cabinet decision is on the Prime Minister’s Office – Cabinet office website. It is only a click away. Here is the internet address in case you might have missed it: http://pmo.govmu.org/English/cabinetoffice/Pages/default.aspx
There is a National Action Plan on Asbestos available on the Ministry of Health’s website, but it is not the said Report. I will contact you tomorrow to know whether it will be made available or not as members of all asbestos housing estates will be gathering in Port Louis on Friday morning and will wish to know the contents of the said Report or if it is not being made available, why it is not being made available despite a Cabinet Decision to this effect.
Hoping to hear from you tomorrow morning,
Rajni Lallah, for the Komite Konzwin LALIT-Abitan lakaz lamyant