Thursday, August 12, 2010



By Charles Duplessis

Aug 12, 2010 12:15 AM

Eastern Cape health officials, who yesterday failed to go to parliament to explain the high rate of baby deaths in the province, have been ordered to present themselves - even if they travel by taxi and stay with relatives.

Photograph by: LULAMILE FENI


Dr Siva Pillay, superintendent-general of the Eastern Cape health department, told parliament's portfolio committee on health yesterday that a visit by President Jacob Zuma and a financial crisis meant senior management of the department could not go to parliament to answer questions on a surge in the province's infant mortality rate.

It was reported in May that more than 180 premature babies died at Mthatha's Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital. Parliament asked for a report from hospital management, but only Pillay arrived.

"As you know, [the] president is in the Eastern Cape and all heads of department were asked to accompany the president, but out of respect for this august body I have decided to be here," said Pillay.

"We have serious financial constraints, and one of the austerity measures is on travel."

But committee chairman and former Eastern Cape health MEC Monwabisi Goqwana, told Pillay: "Our problem is that you are government. When we hear from you, we hear somebody who employs people. We wanted to hear from them what are their challenges as they see them." The committee seemed, however, to accept the absence of health MEC Phumulo Masualle.

"But we understand that the MEC is the chairperson of the African National Congress in that area, and president is there, so we get his apology," said Goqwana.

Pillay said it was "rather unfair on me because prior to coming here I had communicated the difficulties that we are facing". But Goqwana blasted him, saying: "There is something they call quicksand. The more you try and take yourself out of it, the more you are burying yourself down.

"So I would request that, in case you are actually taking yourself into bigger problems, why don't we just say we are calling the meeting off? You will be informed as to when we will be calling you."

Goqwana said "some of the people from the Eastern Cape have got relatives in the Western Cape, so they can actually ask their relatives" for accommodation.