For almost two decades, government has tried to turn a blind eye to the health hazard related to asbestos shelters used by Ministry of Agriculture(MoA) employees in Boteti. Government has always tried its failure to provide alternative accommodation on shortage of funds.
Parliament was told last week for up to 19 years, MoA has been sheltering workers under asbestos houses even though it has been scientifically proved that it poses risk of asbestosis to humans. According to research, asbestosis is an incurable chronic lung disease characterized by a scarring of lung tissues, which leads to long-term breathing complications.
Assistant Minister of Agriculture Kgotla Autlwetse revealed that currently there are six of their employees were being accommodated in asbestos houses. He was answering a question from Boteti East MP Sethomo Lelatisitswe who had asked whether there were MoA officers living in asbestos houses. “There are six employees who are accommodated in asbestos houses; two at Tapana gate, three at Mmea gate and one at Makoba Veterinary Disease Control Gate. The employees have been living in those houses for up to 19 years,” he told parliament.
It further emerged in parliament that for those 19 years, the ministry did not bother conducting any routine medical examinations to check if employees are not affected. The assistant minister said however the concerned employees will be sent for annual medical examinations, effective August 2017.
“Plans are in place to provide six tents to the employees in August 2017, furthermore funds permitting, my ministry will replace asbestos houses with brick walled houses, effective 2018/2019 financial year,” said Autlwetse
Mochudi West legislator Gilbert Mangole charged in with a supplementary question asking if Autlwetse was admitting that government may have been negligent or complacent in dealing with the health risk posed by asbestos structures for 19 years. He also asked Autlwetse whether he was suggesting that MoA had just discovered the health risk of asbestos hence the sudden move to conduct routine checkups.
Autlwetse however answered that the reason why some asbestos buildings were removed and replaced with brick structures is that it has been accepted that they pose a health hazard. He added the insufficiency of funds was the main reason why some workers were living in asbestos structures.