A friend of mine in the UK just sent me this message:
I particularly take the point about the growing effectiveness of blogging and the ways in which Youtube and other such sites are serving to spread the truth of ministerial corruption and opposition dissent.
I have a particular dislike of personalised politics, with individuals being humiliated and often hounded in public. We see so much of that scabrous reportage here, while a hypocritical media protect the war criminals and ignore the real politics of neoliberal destruction.
Of course, the media can also be selective in who they wish to scandalise. I suppose much of the Malaysian media would be itching to exploit the particulars of the Health Minister sex revelations, but constrained by ‘higher’ political interests.
Again, I suspect like you, I have no interest in seeing such people castigated for their ‘indiscretions’. The key point is whether the media are prepared to highlight and challenge the political ‘promiscuities’ of the actual ruling order.
Their obvious failure to do so is why there’s this kind of damning exposure of the elite online. As with the open jeering of Samy Vellu on Youtube, I think we’re seeing here a more subversive kind of action and statement of disregard for the whole ruling political class. That’s the important message…’
Yes, isn’t it strange that the personal sins and indiscretions of Chua Soi Lek – which undoubtedly would have a devastating effect on him and his family – should be given so much media coverage?
But what about the structural sins that Chua has presided over – the sweeping neo-liberal changes in the public health care system which has had an oppressive and more devastating impact on hundreds of thousands – no, millions – of Malaysians.
It seems like poetic justice that Chua’s downfall followed his explosive revelation on 1 January. If you remember, 1 January 2008 is the date announced in Budget 2008 for the Full-Paying Patients (FPP) scheme in government hospitals to come into effect. During the tabling of the 2008 Budget on 7 September 2007, it was announced that specialists in government hospitals would be encouraged to get involved in private treatment to raise their incomes under the FPP scheme.
The Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation had expressed concern that:
• treating private patients would add to the workload of the specialists who are involved in this scheme.
• specialists involved in the FPP scheme would be forced to reduce their involvement in treating ordinary patients in the general hospitals because of a lack of time or energy.
• efforts in training and guiding housemen and doctors undergoing training to become specialists under the tutelage of specialists would be weakened because some of these specialists would be focusing their attention on the treatment of private patients.
• the FPP scheme would erode the incentive for government specialists to raise the performance of the units they lead because the “market” or “demand” for private treatment would only exist if the treatment in the regular clinics was always slow and unsatisfactory, thus prompting patients to seek treatment under the FPP scheme.
The Coalition had expressed the people’s demands as follows:
• Provide high quality government services for all levels of society. This objective should be regarded by the government as a noble responsibility. Government services should not be seen as just another sector that can be traded for profit.
• Acknowledge that policies to encourage private hospitals have weakened the public hospital system and given rise to a lack of confidence among the people in the safety and quality of treatment at government hospitals.
• Give priority to revamping the performance of government hospitals. Only 30 per cent of specialists in Malaysia still work in government hospitals whereas more than 70 per cent of patients who require hospitalisation are admitted to government hospitals.
• Create a Special Commission for health personnel so that they can receive better salaries. A salary scheme similar to that found in the National Heart Institute should be the basis of the new salary scheme. Other benefits should be introduced such as three months’ sabbatical leave every five years to allow government specialists the opportunity to improve their knowledge and expertise.
• Immediately cancel the FPP scheme because the scheme will jeopardise the quality care that can be obtained by various levels of society and the lower- and average-income group.(70 per cent of Malaysian families fall within this category as they receive monthly household incomes of less than RM3,500 per month!)
• The government should always be mindful of the fact that programmes based on free trade or free market principles will marginalise the 70 per cent of Malaysians who are not wealthy!
• Freeze the setting up of new private hospitals because they will pinch many more specialists and experienced nurses from the public hospitals.
How has Chua responded to these demands? Has he at all?
To be fair, Chua is not the only one to blame. Much of the direction probably comes from the Economic Planning Unit under the Prime Minister. In fact, the government has to bear the brunt of the responsibility for under-funding the public health care system. It allocates just over 2 per cent of GDP on health care – well short of WHO requirements of 5-6 per cent. No wonder our hospitals cannot afford to pay enough to our doctors and specialists to keep them in public service or ensure their working conditions and equipment are conducive to providing proper health care for all.
Another grave and oppressive measure was the decision to impose much higher fees for migrant workers – many of whom are exploited in our country – in government general hospitals. These are the very people who need affordable health care, when you consider their meagre wages.
Remember, the cries of the oppressed and the sick reach up to the heavens and God responds in his time with justice.
But what if the sins of the powerful have oppressed an entire nation and what if more than one person – perhaps the administration as a whole – is responsible for this? As another friend put it: “Isn’t it about time that someone wonders, if a minister has to resign for screwing a partner, then what should a government do for screwing a nation”?