Namibia: Health Ministry Gags Employees

THE health ministry has banned all its staff members from providing information to the media, a circular sent by permanent secretary Andreas Mwoombola stated.

According to the circular issued in February this year, he informs all staff members, regional directorates, hospitals, health centres and clinics at regional offices that providing information to the media should only be done by the office of the minister, the office of the PS or the public relations' department.

Mwoombola said the circular came after media reports quoted staff members providing unverified and inappropriate information to the media.

"This practice is destructive to the image of the ministry, and should cease immediately. I look forward to your usual cooperation on this matter," he said further.

Mwoombola's instructions came at a time when President Hage Geingob is advocating access to information through the Harambee Prosperity Plan.

In the same vein, information minister Tjekero Tweya has also advocated an Access to Information Bill, although he said that he will push for the establishment of a statutory media monitoring body to protect members of the public.

He suggested this when he motivated his ministry's budget in the National Assembly last month.

At the time, Tweya said he initially doubted the need for an access to information law, but said he is convinced about the need for such a law to compel the state to divulge information to the media or the public.

Information deputy minister Stanley Simataa stated during a late commemoration of World Press Day last week that the detailed roll-out plan for the Access to Information Bill is scheduled for July this year.

Simataa said this in a keynote address delivered on his behalf by Frans Nghitila, the director of media relations in the information ministry, during the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Namibia's World Press Freedom Day held in Windhoek under the theme "Access to Information and Fundamental Rights - This is Your Right".

Simataa also said in the spirit of the Harambee plan, his ministry is expediting the deployment of e-governance to cover all ministries and public agencies by 2020.

Mwoombola denied to The Namibian on Friday that the circular sent out is against access to information.

He said this was rather a measure by the ministry to prevent conflicting information going out, with the point being to centralise the release of information.

"We do not want poorly researched information going out. We are trying to avoid hearsay, and have someone who will provide the correct information. We do not want to give answers which are going in circles, but to be ethically correct," Mwoombola explained.

Tweya yesterday said he could not comment on the circular because he has not seen it. He requested an email with the relevant questions to be sent to him, but did not respond to it.

Source: The Namibian