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Ombudsman requested to give his stand on Ministry of Health denying access to Addison Report

01.07.2019

To the Ombudsman


2nd Floor, City Centre Building


Cnr Corderie and Leoville L'Homme Streets,


Port Louis


Email: omb@govmu.org


Dear Sir,


We have discussed your email of 3rd June and are perplexed by it as it makes no mention whatsoever of the subject matter of our complaint to you. You will recall that our original complaint of 8th November 2018 was specifically about the Ministry of Health denying us a copy of the Addison Report, a report that had been made public by a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers.


It is clear that the Ministry of Health is obstructing the release of the Addison Report:


1.      In the first instance, the Ministry claimed that it could not “reference” the Cabinet Decision of 2002 which had released the said Report;


2.      Then came a second stage after our complaint to you when the Ministry of Health pretexed that it needed to “ascertain” wether there was indeed a Cabinet Decision in 2002. We have already sent them a link to the PMO website where this Cabinet Decision is officially made public. We quote from your email of 3rd December, 2018.:


With reference to my email of 22 November 2018 you may wish to know that the Ministry has informed our Office that it is going to ascertain whether the Addison Report was indeed released by the then Government in April 2002.”


3.      In a third stage, the Ministry admitted that there was indeed a Cabinet Decision releasing the Addison Report, but claimed that as it had no record of the Ministry having actually released it, it would have to get back to the “stakeholders” yet again to get their approval! This was sent to us and copied to you on the 27th December, 2018:


2. There is no record that the “Report on the Assessment of the Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius” was indeed released to the public following the then Government’s decision in April 2002.


3. Accordingly, the Ministry needs to have approval of the Government for the release of the Report after having consultations with the appropriate stakeholders. It is expected that the decision of Government will be finished by early February next year.


We wrote to Mr. Nursing to object to a public report being made private. We quote our reply of 23rd January, 2019 to Mr Nursing that we copied to you:


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.”


4.      After our reply to the Ministry, they sent you a reply on the 29th March this time claiming that the whole asbestos question would be submitted to Cabinet first, then only after that, they would submit a Paper to Cabinet “thereafter to seek Cabinet's agreement to make the Report public or otherwise”. The deadline for “stakeholders” to report on action taken on asbestos was fixed on the 5th of April. So the release of the Addison Report was now being made conditional to the whole asbestos question being considered by Cabinet. Your email quoted the Ministry as stating: The release of the Addison Report was being delayed by yet another bureaucratic manoeuver.


This Ministry prepared a Paper requesting Cabinet's approval inter alia for the release of the Addison Report. However, we have been advised that, in the first instance, a comprehensive Paper be submitted to Cabinet highlighting actions/recommendations that have already been implemented as well as actions/recommendations that Ministries/Departments propose to implement along with time line and budget if possible and that another Paper may be submitted thereafter to seek Cabinet's agreement to make the Report on Asbestos public or otherwise.”


5.      After this, the deadline for the first stage of “stakeholders” reporting on action taken by their Ministries began to be pushed further and further away. When you inquired yet again on where things were on the 1st of April, the Ministry replied that they were still waiting for submissions from “4 stakeholders”.


And now, we receive an e-mail from you where no reference to the Addison Report can be found whatsoever.


Our original complaint of 8th November, 2018 to you couldn’t have been clearer:


“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…”


And we specifically called on you to ensure that:


Any decision of the Ministry of Health to reverse or cancel the 2002 Cabinet decision be annulled,


1.      “The omission be rectified i.e that we get immediate access to a complete copy of the Addison Report;


2.      “Any practice on which the act of denying us/the public public information be altered.


Section (100) of the Constitution gives you powers to ensure this:


(g) that any other steps should be taken,the Ombudsman shall report his opinion, and his reasons, to the principal officer of any department or authority concerned, and may make such recommendations as he thinks fit; he may request that officer to notify him, within a specified time, of any steps that it is proposed to take to give effect to his recommendations; and he shall also send a copy of his report and recommendations to the Prime Minister and to any Minister concerned.


(3) Where within a reasonable time after the report is made no action is taken which seems to the Ombudsman to be adequate and appropriate, the Ombudsman, if he thinks fit, after considering any comments made by or on behalf of any department, authority, body or person affected, may send a copy of the report and recommendations to the Prime Minister and to any Minister concerned, and may thereafter make such further report to the Assembly on the matter as he thinks fit.”


Seven months after our original complaint, we now write to formally ask for your stand in your inquiry: for how will you allow these bureaucratic tactics denying people access to a publicly released Report?


Yours sincerely,


Rajni Lallah


for Joint Committees of LALIT - Asbestos House inhabitants