Minister for Health, Sir Puka Temu, says his instructions to stop senior health officials speaking publicly about health issues was not intended to stop them from holding a view on issues they felt strongly about.
Sir Puka said the purpose of the circular, which has gone viral on social media, was for the Health Department to be consistent with its messaging to avoid fear and confusion in the community, especially on sensitive issues like the shortage of medical supplies.
Sir Puka said the circular had nothing to do with trying to avoid public scrutiny or suppressing people’s rights to freedom of speech.
“In every organisation, public or private, the head of the organisation is normally the official spokesperson,” the Minister said in a statement.
“In the case of the Health Ministry and the Department of Health, I will handle policy issues while the Secretary will deal with the administrative matters in terms of public comment.”
Sir Puka said all staff employed by the Department or working in public hospitals were on the public payroll and their first priority should be to serve the government of the day.
Sir Puka added that he has an “open door policy” and he is keen to hear the views of all those who wish to improve the health system.
He explained that within the health system, there were multiple avenues for staff to register issues and concerns with their supervisors, senior management, hospital and PHA boards, public seminars and other mechanisms.
Sir Puka said in the case of the shortage of medical supplies, he has already given instructions to the Department of Health to quickly resolve the issues.
“We now have medical supplies arriving in government stores throughout the country.
“Just recently, I secured K16 million in additional funding to procure medical kits for aid posts and health centres.
“I have directed the Department to settle all outstanding bills and next week I intend to approach Cabinet again with a further request for funds to address these issues.”
Sir Puka said health is an important priority of the Government and features prominently in the Alotau Accord Mark II. The Minister has asked the Department, as part of his First 100 Days Plan, to develop a two-year procurement program so that the shortage of medical supplies becomes a thing of the past.