Why the TAC is Going to Court Tomorrow and Holding Country-Wide Demonstrations
We Need a Treatment Plan Timetable Now!
3 November 2004
On 19 November 2003, the Cabinet announced the Operational Plan on Comprehensive Care and Treatment for HIV and AIDS (Operational Plan). This plan gave hope to millions of people with HIV because it committed government to:
After the Plan was agreed to by Cabinet many health workers and health officials made a great effort to make the programme a success. In Gauteng and the Western Cape thousands of people now benefit from access to treatment. But overall the programme has been rolled out very slowly. The Operational Plan committed to treating over 50,000 people by March 2004. But, by October 2004, less than 15,000 people were being treated in public hospitals and clinics.
It is important that ordinary citizens are able to help government with the implementation of the Operational Plan and that they can hold government accountable. But this can only be done properly if we know the dates when clinics and hospitals will begin treatment, the number of people that each clinic or hospital will be able to treat and how many additional health-care workers each clinic or hospital will hire to help implement the programme.
Since November 2003 the Operational Plan has referred to a document which contains most of this information; it is called Annexure A. This document has still not been made public.
The TAC requested Annexure A from the Minister of Health on 20 February 2004 because we believed this to be the implementation timetable. It is our right to have this information. The South African Constitution says anyone has the right of access to any information held by the state. But eight months later, the Minister has not released the implementation timetable.
The TAC also wrote letters to the ANC and to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health asking them to intervene so that we would not have to take the Minister of Health to court to get the implementation timetable. But the Minister still refused.
As a last resort, the TAC decided to take the Minister of Health to court to compel her to make the implementation plan, which we understood to be Annexure A, available. After the TAC led court papers on 18 June 2004, the Department opposed the case and only in September 2004 responded for the first time through an affidavit stating that Annexure A is a draft document that was never officially adopted. According to the Department all references to Annexure A in the Operational Plan, were errors that they forgot to correct.
This was very surprising to the TAC because since February 2004 we were led to believe that the implementation plan was Annexure A. There are many references to Annexure A in the Operational Plan. Also, it has been nearly a year since the Operational Plan was adopted by Cabinet and this is the first time that the Department said that Annexure A was only a draft and that all references to it in the Operational Plan were errors.
If the Department is telling the truth there are two possibilities:
(1) a new implementation timetable for the Operational Plan has been developed, in which case government is Constitutionally obligated to make it available, or
(2) no implementation timetable exists, in which case government has a Constitutional obligation to develop one.
Therefore the TAC is proceeding as follows:
1. On 4 November we will ask the Pretoria High Court to award us all the legal costs for taking this case so far because it took government so long to inform us that Annexure A was a draft. But in our court papers we explain that the cost is not only about money, but about people's lives. Every delay by government results in people dying before they get access to treatment.
2. In six provinces, TAC members will demonstrate that they want access to life-saving information. For many people who need treatment and want to know when and where it will be available, the right to know is important for their
right to live.
3. Our lawyers will still ask the department for the final implementation timetable.
a. If the department has an implementation timetable but refuses to provide it, we will ask the courts to compel it to make it available because the Constitution guarantees the right to access to information.
b. If there is no timetable, we will ask the courts to compel the Minister of Health to develop one because the Constitution guarantees our rights to life, dignity and healthcare. Also, the Operational Plan cannot be implemented properly without an implementation timetable.
The Minister can stop all legal action against her and her department by simply making the implementation timetable publicly available. Demand the Right to Know. Join TAC events in Pretoria, Cape Town, East London, Polokwane, Nelspruit and Durban on 4 November.
Details of Demonstrations on 4 November 2004
Cape Town: Meet at Keizersgragt Street at 11am for a march to Parliament
Pretoria: Meet at Church Square, Pretoria at 9am for a march to the Pretoria High Court
Bisho: Meet at the Bisho Legislature at 11am
Pietermaritzburg: Meet at Market Square at 10am
Polokwane: Meet at Department of Health at 10am
Nelspruit: Meet at Government Complex, Riverside Mall at 10am