Health Ministry and its mishandling of public health, in particular the worst dengue epidemic in nation's history, are the worst Malaysian example of Mahathir's lament of "no trust and no good governance" at the recent Davos World Economic Forum

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Thursday): The theme of the recent 33rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos was "Building Trust" as the past year witnessed the world-wide breakdown of trust in many sectors of society which was confirmed by a major global public opinion survey that suggests that trust in many key institutions, whether government or corporate, has fallen to critical proportions.

As a result, restoring confidence in the future is regarded by the World Economic Forum as the most important and timely leadership challenge in the world today.

Speaking at the first plenary session of WEF in Davos on "Trust and Governance for a New Era", the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said: "We have not done such a good job managing this Global Village of ours. There is no trust and no good governance."

Sadly, Malaysia is not exempt from the this worldwide phenomenon of critical breakdown of public trust in governance. The Health Ministry and its mishandling of public health, in particular the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history and which is raging unchecked, are the worst Malaysian example of Mahathir's lament of "no trust and no good governance" at the recent Davos World Economic Forum.

The shocking disclaimer of responsibility by the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng on Monday for the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history on the novel ground that dengue cases do not come under the jurisdiction of the Health Ministry and the repetition by the Health director-general Tan Sri Dr. Mohamad Taha Ariff yesterday denying that the current dengue outbreak has reached epidemic level are evidence why the Health Ministry is heading the national list of the least-trusted Ministries and government institutions in the country.

In asserting that the occurrence of dengue fever in the country has not reached epidemic level, Dr. Mohamad Taha said the situation was not as serious as in 1998, "when more than 17,000 cases were reported". (Star)

I would advise Dr. Mohamad Taha to jealously guard his professional reputation when taking orders from the Health Minister, as he raised two serious questions touching on trust and governance in his press conference statement yesterday:

Firstly, based on reports from the Malaysian Government, various World Health Organisation (WHO) publications cited 1998 as the worst dengue year for the country until the current outbreak, with 27,379 cases and 58 deaths reported. Is the Health Director-General, who now claims that there were only 17,000 dengue cases reported in 1998 (which would be lower than the 19,544 dengue cases reported in 1997), suggesting that the WHO figures had been wrong and that the Health Ministry had been misleading WHO all these years?

Secondly, in denying that there had been over 32,000 dengue cases reported last year, (Nanyang Siang Pau) Dr. Mohamad Taha is jeopardizing his professional reputation. He cannot be unaware that early this month, the Selangor State Exco member in charge of health, Datuk Tang See Hang had released data on dengue outbreak nation-wide as of 14th December 2002, with a state-by-state breakdown of the dengue cases and fatalities which showed that there were a total of 29,615 cases and 53 deaths. On 19th January, in the first of a three-part series on the dengue epidemic, Sin Chew quoted official sources to report that as of December 28 last year, there were 32,289 dengue cases and 57 deaths. Is Datuk Mohamad Taha suggesting that both Tang See Hang and Sin Chew Daily were wrong and had misled the public with fictitious figures? If Tan See Hang and Sin Chew had given wrong figures, why is the Health Ministry taking such a long time to correct them with the correct data? Up to now, the Health Ministry has refused to release the "true" data to the public, when there should be timely release of such information on a weekly and even daily basis!

Both Chua and Dr. Mohamad Taha will be specifically cited in the second report which DAP leaders will lodge with Suhakam next Friday on the violation of additional human rights in the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, which is still raging on unchecked, claiming more and more human lives. The first report lodged with Suhakam on Monday was with regard to the violation of "the mother of all human rights", the right to life, while the second report with Suhakam would focus on the violation of the right to information and press freedom.

Suhakam should launch a full and thorough investigation not only into the denial of information but even more serious the officials involved in a deliberate campaign to misinform the public in the worst dengue epidemic in the country.

I commend Dr. Mohamad Taha for his media conference unveiling the dengue poster to give information about the dengue outbreak - but it has come seven months too late, after 32,000 dengue cases and some 100 lives have been lost when over 90 per cent of these deaths were unnecessary and avoidable.

The dengue poster unveiled by Dr. Mohamad Taha is an anti-dengue effort which is too little and too late, and will have no significant impact in the absence of full co-operation by radio and television to give daily warning and information about the dengue epidemic. When will the denial and irresponsibility syndrome of the Health Ministry end? When will radio, television and the printed press come on board in a daily campaign against the deadly aedes mosquito until the worst dengue epidemic has been brought under control?


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman