Government loves secrecy. Every attempt to get access to information, even if it concerns you personally and is already supposedly public, gets thrwarted by bureacratic means. At times the quest for something as simple as a copy of a 2002 Public Health Report on Asbestos prepared by the Government with Commonwealth assistance and already in the public domain, takes on the scale of an epic drama. If it were not people’s health that was concerned, it would be bad comedy.
Here, to give our website visitors a glimpse of the epic struggle to get hold of a simple document, is LALIT’s most recent letter to a senior official at the Public Health section of the Health Ministry, signed Rajni Lallah, dated 23 January, 2019.
“Re: Request for a copy of the “Report on the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius”
“Dear Mr Nursing,
“Three months after our request for the “Report on the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius” commonly known as the “Addison Report”, we have received a “reply” from you dated 27th December, 2018. We have had to make a complaint to the Ombudsman to receive this “reply”. We are not sure what to make of your “reply” as it is both reckless in regard to asbestos-house dwellers, and ignorant of the facts, at the same time.
“Your “reply” exposes the total disregard that you, in the name of the Ministry of Health, have for the well-being and health of inhabitants of asbestos housing. We remind you that the State that you represent is responsible for selling off these dangerous houses to inhabitants even after asbestos was internationally recognised as a life-threatening danger. As you know, some 2,000 inhabitants are still living in these asbestos houses. This is all the more serious when you are a representative of the Ministry of Health.
“When inhabitants organised in some 50 “Joint LALIT- asbestos house inhabitant Committees” have been, for the last three months, trying to get a copy of the analysis and recommendations made in the Addison Report, the Ministry seems to be doing all it can to stop inhabitants from getting access to it: You now admit 3 months after our request that there was indeed a Cabinet decision to release the Addison Report. Instead of remedial action on your part to get the Report released, you are bureaucratically delaying such action by stating that since you do not have a record that the Report was indeed released, the Ministry has decided to seek the current Government’s approval for its release. What you are saying in effect is that a Report that a Cabinet decision has made public has become secret because the Ministry of Health failed to make it public in 2002. You are now using the pretext that new government approval needs to be sought, to prevent its release.
“Your reply not only exposes the Ministry of Health’s neglect of the health of inhabitants living in toxic houses, it is also, as we have stated, ignorant: the Addison Report has already in actual fact been released by the Government:
“1. The government held a press conference to release the Report to the press in 2002.
[ Here, as proof LALIT refers to an Annex containing a pdf version of the Hansard transcription of the relevant Parliamentary Question and Answer, when Ashok Jugnauth was Health Minister: “Mr. A. Jugnauth: 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.]
“2. A copy of the said report was to be remitted to the National Assembly library according to this Hansard transcription.
“How can the Ministry of Health make a report that was officially released to the public by the Government in 2002 secret in 2019?
“We are, like you, copying this letter to the Ombudsman.
“for Joint LALIT-Asbestos house inhabitant Committees”.