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Victory as Health Ministry opens up to media

(MISA/IFEX) - 18 February 2011 - On 16 February 2011, in a positive development that augurs well for media freedom in Swaziland, Minister for Health Benedict Xaba ordered the entire staff in his ministry to cooperate at all times with journalists seeking information from the ministry.

Quoted in the state-owned "Swazi Observer" newspaper, the Minister told his staff that the time to hide behind a veil of bureaucracy was over, saying they should give reporters all the information they require at all times. He said opening up to the media was part of upholding the rights of patients to know about the situation in the country's hospitals.

The Minister told his staff that there was nothing to hide even when there is shortage of drugs in hospitals, saying providing such information to the media will not only empower patients but will further enable them to make informed decisions when visiting hospitals.

"(For the media) to report about such things also enables us as a ministry to know our shortcomings and work towards rectifying them, thus enabling us to deliver efficient services to our esteemed clients, who are the patients. Moreover, it will prevent the patients from travelling long distances only to find that there are no drugs in hospitals," the Minister said.

He added: "In light of this I have ordered all staff in my ministry to adopt a new work ethic, that of cooperating with journalists at all times as they are our partners on the road to an improved and effective health service delivery."

MISA-Swaziland welcomes this positive development from the Health Minister. His move is a welcome departure from the previous stance by the same Ministry, banning journalists from interviewing patients or sourcing stories from hospitals and clinics. Transparency in government is indeed important as it meets the fundamental rights of citizens to access information held by public bodies such as government ministries. Such a move also helps to promote media freedom in Swaziland.

MISA-Swaziland can only encourage the Minister to see to it that his instruction is carried out to the letter by his staff for the desired transparency to be realized and enjoyed by the citizens of Swaziland, including the media.

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