Offer to co-operate with Chua Jui Meng to establish  national and international confidence that Malaysia is fully transparent on the SARS outbreak and that there is no cover-up or under-stating of the gravity of the health crisis

Media Conference Statement
DAP campaign to raise public SARS awareness at Pulau Tikus  market
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Thursday): The most urgent task facing the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng  and the government is to convince national and international community that it is being fully transparent on the SARS outbreak in Malaysia, and that there is no cover-up or under-stating of  the gravity of the health crisis created by the new killer virus. 

China’s handling of the SARS outbreak has come under attack both at home and abroad as the authorities failed to give full alert to  the rest of the world for nearly five months after the outbreak of the disease in Guangzhou, on the ground that if China had been more transparent in sharing information on the outbreak, the spread of the virus could have been contained and the  global epidemic, killing at least 105 lives, infecting nearly 3,000  in some 30 countries reaching five continents, could have been prevented. 

Even now, the claims of Chinese authorities to have the disease under control are viewed with great suspicion with reports of a possible cover-up on the number of infections and casualties. 

Time magazine has reported a local doctor claiming Beijing’s main hospital for SARS cases had admitted 60 patients with the virus, of whom seven died – which contradicts the Chinese Health Ministry figures that said only 19 people had been infected in the Chinese capital, including four had died. 

But it is not only China which has attracted national and international skepticism about its reporting of the of the SARS situation, as Malaysia is the other country whose credibility is under a national and international cloud, as illustrated by the article on the online Asia Times, entitled “SARS: Nobody's buying Malaysia's silence - By Jiang Yu-hang”.


The Asia Times said

“Although Singapore is one of the hardest hit by SARS among Southeast Asian countries, the government has shown courage in its fast response and presentation of all relevant information, which has made the Singaporean public trust their government's competence in containing the disease.

“The most effective way to fight infectious disease aside from medical treatment is through information exchange and high transparency. Sadly, in today's information era, there are still countries that refuse to place human life ahead of face. The results are the loss of valuable time, which international efforts need to prevent the spread of disease, and ultimately, the loss of many innocent lives.  

“Malaysia should learn from neighboring Singapore instead of following China's example. At this critical moment in the global SARS outbreak, any country's top concern should be to protect its people. Everything else, including image concerns, should be secondary. The surest way to stem an epidemic is to provide detailed, accurate and timely information to both one's own public as well as international organizations. “ 

Malaysia’s credibility of full transparency and no cover-ups are not helped by Chua’s latest attempt to gag the various state authorities, particularly Penang and Perak, from being  open and frank  about the SARS situation in their respective states. 

Malaysiakini yesterday reported that Chua had complained  at the Cabinet yesterday that two state exco members in Penang and Perak violated the cabinet decision authorising only the health minister and the ministry’s director-general and deputy director-general to comment on SARS. 

In fact, the people learnt about the probable SARS cases in Perak and Penang from the respective state authorities first, and only 24 hours later from Chua. Chua should have thanked the state authorities for giving timely information about the probable SARS case, as otherwise, rumours would have taken wings creating dismay and even panic among the people should they believe that  the information on the probable SARS case was being denied them in a “cover-up” by  Kuala Lumpur. 

Chua told a post-Cabinet meeting yesterday that the gag on the state authorities from being open and frank about the SARS situation should be strictly imposed – which is clearly against the public interest and will only further undermine national and international confidence about the government’s  transparency on the SARS situation. 

The Cabinet decision to gag the state authorities from giving information about SARS, just like its directive to prohibit them from giving information about  cases and deaths in the ongoing  dengue epidemic, is not in the public interest and should be lifted immediately. There is also no reason why the various state governments should be bound by such an unreasonable and short-sighted directive made at the request of Chua using the name of the Cabinet. 

My lack of faith and trust in Chua in being fully transparent on the SARS outbreak is well-known, and I had stated it openly in my emails to the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. 

In the national interest, I offer full co-operation to Chua to establish  national and international confidence that Malaysia is fully transparent on the SARS outbreak and is not in any form of a ‘cover up”.

I am prepared to go through all the SARS cases notified to the health authorities by the doctors in both the private and public sectors, and publicly declare that the information given out by the Health Ministry on SARS are all true and reflects a full transparency policy with no “cover ups” if this is borne out by my examination of the notified SARS cases, both suspected and probable. 

The  ball is in Chua’s court as to whether he would accept the offer, all in the national interest of convincing Malaysians and the world of the government’s full transparency on the SARS outbreak. 

Information about the SARS outbreak is crucial and vital to ensure that the people can protect themselves from the new deadly killer virus as well as to ensure that they would not easily panic because of all sorts of wild rumours in the midst of scarce information. 

For this reason, the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon should launch a massive state-wide SARS  information  campaign to make every Penangite understand the real nature of SARS, the do’s and don’ts in the outbreak, as well as to give the people the latest update on the SARS situation in the state.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman