Chua Jui Meng should announce
that he would play no role in the SARS alert so as not to undermine public
credibility in government announcements about SARS when he had not been able
to rebut serious allegations of chronic manipulation of statistics of dengue
cases and deaths
by Lim Kit Siang
Public confidence in the
government handling of the World Health Organisation (WHO) global alert
about the "atypical pneumonia" or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
have been shaken by swift contradictory reports about incidence of SARS in
Yesterday, for instance, New Straits Times carried the front-page headline
"Two down with killer pneumonia" reporting that SARS has reached Malaysia,
with two confirmed cases and several other suspected cases.
Today, Malaysians wake up to find a swift denial, with the Health Ministry
director-general Tan Sri Dr. Mohamad Taha Arif saying that although there
were no confirmed cases so far, the authorities were not complacent.
The Health Ministry should realize that in a public health threat, its
credibility and ability to command public confidence in what they say and
claim are of the most critical importance.
Unfortunately, this intangible and the most precious asset of any public
health authorities had been severely compromised and squandered away by a
series of previous mishandling of epidemics, causing unnecessary and
avoidable deaths - the most recent case being the worst dengue epidemic in
the nation's history, with the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, still
refusing to give the full and true details about incidence of dengue cases
and deaths or timely information on a weekly or daily basis to let the
people know about the progress to bring the dengue epidemic under control.
More than 48 hours have passed since I went to Parliament House on Wednesday
in my briefing to MPs where I made the most serious allegation, supported by
facts and figures, that Chua had been guilty of the biggest sin any Health
Minister could commit - manipulation of statistics of dengue cases and
deaths to mislead Parliament and the people and downplay the true gravity of
the dengue epidemic raging in the country.
In the circumstances, whatever he touches is immediately infected by the
virus of lack of public confidence as he is carrying the SANCS (Severe Acute
No Confidence Syndrome) virus.
For this reason, Chua should announce that he would play no role in the SARS
alert so as not to undermine public credibility in government announcements
about SARS when he had not been able to rebut serious allegations of chronic
manipulation of statistics of dengue cases and deaths.
In any other country, a Health Minister who had been publicly accused of
manipulating statistics of a deadly epidemic with regard to the incidence of
cases and deaths to mislead Parliament and the people about its severity
would have resigned if the Minister concerned is unable to clear his or her
But in Malaysia, the Health Minister seems to be able to treat such a
serious allegation as a joke, although he is unable to rebut it! He need not
even announce that he would personally be in Parliament on Monday during the
Ministerial winding-up in the debate on the Royal Address to answer the
serious allegations made against him on the colossal mishandling of the
dengue epidemic causing so many unnecessary and avoidable deaths.
Chua should let Malaysians and the world know that in the SARS alert,
neither he nor any other political appointee, whether Deputy Minister or
Parliamentary Secretary, would be involved in any way, and none of them
would make any public statements or announcements during the duration of the
SARS alert - so that the whole SARS alert would be handled professionally,
including the important task of informing the public about its daily
Let the SARS alert be handled 100% professionally for the first time in the
history of public health crisis in the country, without any interference
whatsoever by the Health Minister or the other political appointees - with
the professionals given one specific directive, that they should be frank
and honest to give daily, accurate, full and timely information to the
people about the SARS alert to ensure that there would be no cause or ground
for the shattering of public confidence in the full professional handling of
the SARS alert.
If Parliament is to be informed about the SARS alert, the Health Minister,
his deputy or parliamentary secretary should read out to MPs in full a
statement on the issue prepared by his Ministry's professionals.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National