Chua does not have the courage of conviction to justify the media blackout on the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history but hides behind the dishonesty of denying such a media "gag"

Media Comment
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): The denial by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Health Ministry, S. Sothinathan, in Parliament yesterday that there was a media "blackout" of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history is the latest example that the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng does not have the courage of conviction to justify the media blackout but hides behind the dishonesty of denying such a media "gag".

None other than the Selangor Mentri Besar, Datuk Mohamad Khir Toyo had explicitly admitted in an email to me dated 27th February 2003 that he could not release any data on dengue cases and deaths in Selangor state this year because of "Cabinet instruction".

Is Chua suggesting that Mohamad Khir was telling a lie when he told me in his email that there was a "gag" on information about dengue cases and deaths? Is Chua saying that the Selangor Mentri Besar was wrong as there is no ban on him from releasing information on the dengue epidemic in his state?

And isn't it true that it was Chua who was responsible for asking the Cabinet to impose such a media "gag" on dengue, and why he is not prepared to admit the fact and give the reasons for his latest media "gag" on a public health menace?

If Chua was not trying to manipulate the dengue data to downplay the gravity of the dengue epidemic, why has there been no response from him for the past week to my briefing to MPs in Parliament House last Wednesday that although Chua said on March 11 that there were 11 dengue deaths this year till Feb. 22, in actual fact, there had been more deaths in the week from February 23 - March 1, with at least two deaths in Perak and one in Selangor?.

Chua had committed a grave dereliction of Ministerial duty in failing to give priority to his parliamentary duty to personally reply to the various important public health issues raised by MPs during the winding up of the debate on the motion of thanks for the Royal Address yesterday pertaining to his Ministry, relegating it to his parliamentary secretary.

Sothinathan had failed to explain why the Health Ministry had most irresponsibly and unprofessionally played with dengue data, with the Ministry of Health website confirming WHO dengue literature about 58 dengue deaths in 1998, but the Health Minister's press secretary, Woon Yong Teal, suddenly admitted that there were 82 dengue deaths in 1998 in a letter to Malaysiakini on 17th March 2003.

Why had 24 dengue deaths in 1998 been hidden away from the WHO, the Parliament and Malaysians for more than four years, which is not calculated to inspire public confidence and trust in data and statistics released by the Health Ministry?

Sothinathan was conspicuously silent in his reply yesterday on two points in my briefing last week:

  1. My rebuttal of Chua's denial that there had been a World Health Organisation (WHO) global dengue alert in July last year warning all governments in the region to take effective anti-dengue preventive actions. Why had the Health Minister missed the WHO global dengue alert last July, and was this a major cause why the dengue epidemic had gone out of control in the past eight months?

  2. Chua was very proud that the Dengue Haemorrhage Fever (DHF) case-fatality rate for last year was 10%, totally forgetting that under the Seventh Malaysia Plan, the target for case-fatality rate for DHF is "not more than 1%" - which is now exceeded by over 1,000 per cent with a DHF fatality rate of 10%. What is the reason for such a serious compromise of the Seventh Malaysia Plan objective with regard to DHF case-fatality rate?

It is a parliamentary practice during budget debate for MPs to move a RM10-cut motion to express lack of confidence in any serious Ministerial lapse of responsibility - but in the prolonged mishandling of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, MPs should consider a RM10-cut motion not only for the Health Minister but also to rope in his Parliamentary Secretary to express parliamentary censure for the duo's mishandling of the dengue epidemic.

As there will be a debate next week on a new set of supplementary estimates for last year, there may be an opportunity for Parliament to censure both the Health Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary in one go for their mishandling of the dengue epidemic and irresponsible replies in Parliament.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman