Kampala- The Election Commission has slapped a ban on presidential candidates’ visits to hospitals, places of worship, schools and markets. The commission has henceforth notified the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, to enforce the new guidelines.
The latest EC decision is in response to the spate of clashes between police authorities and some presidential candidates who had turned visitation to such facilities to ascertain their state as part of their campaign schedule.
In a December 30 press statement, EC chairman, Badru Kiggundu said: “The EC has noted with concern some presidential candidates who have made it a habit of going to various hospitals and conducting campaigns amidst patients. The Commission would like to guide that hospitals are not campaign venues just like markets and schools are not.”
Although the EC’s statement does not mention places of worship [churches and mosques], when contacted yesterday, EC spokesperson, Jotham Taremwa, said the ban, supported by the ruling NRM party deputy spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo, and rebuked by some Opposition leaders, includes places of worship.
“Hospitals are not venues for campaigns just like churches, schools and markets, they are out of bounds and we have accordingly communicated to all the candidates,” Mr Taremwa said.
However, EC’s order seemed liked an immediate response to a letter, issued on the same day by Dr Asuman Lukwago, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health, banning campaigns from hospitals. Dr Lukwago had written to EC chairman Kiggundu, guiding the commission on the visiting of health facilities by “political candidates”.
Dr Lukwago said health facilities are restricted places and official visiting hours are provided for any person wishing to see patients. If it’s an official visit, he said, this should be arranged through the respective authorities. “The privacy of patients and staff integrity should be respected. All information especially clinical information, is confidential,” Dr Lukwago said.
He added: “Photocopying, filming and interviewing of patients and staff is only permitted for certain purposes such as approved research by a relevant authority.” For operational matters, Dr Lukwago said, the in-charge of the health facility is the official spokesperson and matters of policy and political nature should be handled by the PS, ministry of health.
Asked whether his letter was intended to cover up the rot in public hospitals, Dr Lukwago said: “We are worried that EC could have gazetted hospitals as campaign areas.
At first, we thought it was a one-off but it appears it has become a routine and this is unacceptable, patients should have privacy.”
If it’s a matter of uncovering the rot, Dr Lukwago said, “politicians are not the right people to assess the gaps,” insisting that the Ministry of Health has professionals who have carried out needs assessment research and identified gaps. “Dr Besigye should go there (hospitals) to treat patients but not to campaign.”
This month, Dr Besigye’s tour of the dilapidated Abim hospital caused an uproar. In a statement on Wednesday, President Museveni said while Abim Hospital was in a bad state, a lot of work has been done to combat killer diseases and accused Dr Besigye of dishonesty.
On several occasions, Dr Besigye and the Go Forward independent presidential candidate Mr Amama Mbabazi, attempted to access public hospitals but have been blocked by police for lack of official communication from the authorities.