DAP lodges another Suhakam report on second
set of human rights violations in the government's mishandling of the worst
dengue epidemic in the nation's history - the right to information and press
freedom - which prevented the killer epidemic from being brought under
control as happened in Singapore in November, causing a long list of
unnecessary and avoidable deaths which have passed the century figure
by Lim Kit Siang
Before the Chinese New Year holidays on 27th January 2003, together with
other DAP leaders and MPs, I lodged an official report and complaint with
Suhakam on the Health Ministry's flagrant, rampant and continuing violation
of the most basic of all human rights - the right to life - as a result of
its mishandling of the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history which
could have caused some one hundred dengue deaths and may be another 100
lives before the end of the epidemic.
We have come to Suhakam today to lodge a second set of human rights
violations in the government's continued mishandling of the worst dengue
epidemic in the nation's history, which is still raging on unchecked,
unnoticed and the people still uninformed.
Let me preface our second human rights violations report to Suhakam with the
stark reminder and warning that the gross violation of the most basic and
fundamental of all human rights, the real mother of all human rights - the
right to life - is proceeding apace with the rising toll of unnecessary and
avoidable deaths from the killer dengue epidemic in the new year.
We had urged in our first report that Suhakam should immediately set up a
high-level special committee, preferably headed by the Suhakam Chairman, Tan
Sri Abu Talib Othman himself, comprising at least three Suhakam
Commissioners to deal urgently with the continuing violation of the mother
of all human rights - the right to life - more than six months after the
World Health Organisation (WHO) warning last July to the region of a dengue
pandemic on the scale of 1998, the worst recorded year for dengue for
Malaysia and the region, and we would appreciate it if the Malaysian people
could be informed of the Suhakam response to our first report.
In his speech when opening a seminar on Monday to commemorate the birthday
centenary of Bapa Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman Puta Al-haj, the Deputy Prime
Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called on people to be
"responsible, honest, sincere and have the courage to speak the truth" so
that leaders especially those in top position would not be distanced from
the truth and reality.
It is in this spirit of "the courage to speak the truth" that this further
report to Suhakam on the second set of human rights violations in the worst
dengue epidemic is being lodged.
1. Denial of Right to Information
The Sun of Thursday, January 30, 2003 carried the front-page headline
"Dengue blackout - Ministry DG: Public need not know the details" for its
report which quoted the Director-General of Health Tan Sri Mohamad Taha
Ariff as declaring that "the public do not have the right to know the
seriousness of the dengue outbreak" and that "it is not necessary for
Malaysians to know any details" about incidence of dengue cases and dengue
fatalities or whether Malaysia is suffering from the worst dengue epidemic
in the nation's history and which is raging on unchecked, causing more and
more unnecessary and avoidable deaths.
On the same day as our first report to Suhakam on the "right to life"
violation, the Health Minsiterr, Datuk Chua Jui Meng commented that I had
directed my fire on the unnecessary and avoidable death toll at the "wrong
target", which was reported by the Nanyang Siang Pau the next day with the
headline "No Need for Health Ministry to Bear Responsibility".
The Health Minister's short comment disclaiming responsibility was more
damning than his long silence in the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's
history. He neither disputed my figures, assumptions and arguments which I
had made in my 25 media statements on the dengue epidemic in the previous 43
days, a collection of which had been submitted to Suhakam as an annexure to
the first report.
Malaysia probably has the first Health Minister in the world to claim that
his Ministry is not responsible at all for a deadly disease epidemic in the
country, which is continuing to claim human lives while another country,
threatened by a similar disease in the region, had successfully brought it
under control within five months!
A check of the records would show that when the incidence of dengue was low,
the Health Minister had no hesitation in claiming credit; but when there is
a dengue epidemic as the present one raging out of control with ever-rising
death toll, the Health Minister would wash his hands by trying to disclaim
For instance, in April 2000, Chua announced that the number of dengue and
dengue haemorrhagic cases in the country decreased by 62.3 per cent the
previous year (1999) from 27,381 in 1998 to 9,947 cases - the biggest drop
in 10 years - which also saw a drop in the number of deaths from 58 in 1998
to 27 in 1999. Chua attributed the success to the government's cleanliness
and anti-mosquito campaign. (Utusan 14.4.2000)
But when the worst dengue epidemic hit Malaysia after the WHO warning last
July, Chua refused to assume responsibility, denying Malaysians the most
important and critical information about the incidence of dengue cases and
deaths although all medical practitioners, laboratories and adult Malaysians
are required by law under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Disease
Act 1988 to notify the health authorities of any dengue case or guilty of an
Up to now, the Health Ministry has refused to release the latest data of the
dengue epidemic to the public, when there should be timely release of such
information on at least a weekly basis!
The only information available from the Health director-general Tan Sri Dr.
Mohamad Taha Ariff on 29th January 2003 was that the occurrence of dengue
fever in the country had not reached epidemic level, and that the situation
was not as serious as in 1998, "when more than 17,000 cases were reported"
(Star), compromising his professional reputation and integrity for two
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. Why was the Health Director-General claiming 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, Dr. Mohamad Taha was contradicting the statement early last month
by the Selangor State Exco member in charge of health, Datuk Tang See Hang
who had released data on dengue outbreak nation-wide. with a state-by-state
breakdown of the dengue cases and fatalities. The data showed that as of
14th December 2002, 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 Daily quoted official sources to report that as of December 28 last
year, there were 32,289 dengue cases and 57 deaths. Was Datuk Mohamad Taha
suggesting that both Tang See Hang and Sin Chew Daily were wrong and had
misled the public with fictitious figures? If Tang and Sin Chew had given
wrong figures, why had the Health Ministry failed to specifically correct
In Singapore, which brought the feared dengue pandemic under control in
November after increased incidence of dengue cases in August/September, the
authorities released weekly figures of dengue and DHF cases as well as other
infectious diseases, which were accessible on the Internet. We enclose as an
annexure the weekly reports on the number of dengue/DHF cases issued in
Singapore from the 27th week of last year to the fifth week of this year.
The death toll would not have been so high - I would not be surprised if the
death toll was in three digits last year with at least 15 deaths in the
first month of the new year - if Malaysians had not been denied the right to
information about the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's history, which
are necessary conditions for a nation-wide alert and awareness for a
national government-community effort to combat the killer dengue epidemic.
Malaysia urgently needs a new information policy in keeping with a Knowledge
Economy and Information Society to inform, enlighten and educate the people
instead of current government practices to obstruct, obscure and obfuscate
the free flow of information as in the virulent killer dengue epidemic.
2. Denial of Press Freedom to report the worst dengue epidemic
In the past few months, the various language newspapers, most notably Sin
Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Berita Harian and Malaysia Nanban Daily had
been warned by the authorities when they tried to report about the dengue
epidemic and stop the rising spate of unnecessary and avoidable deaths.
This is press control and censorship at its worst, when it has nothing to do
with party politics whatsoever but entirely about life-and-death issues for
the people in Malaysia.
The argument that reporting on the worst dengue epidemic in the nation's
history would frighten away tourists is misplaced, short-sighted,
counter-productive and the height of irresponsibility.
In the age of information
technology, such media blackout may succeed in hiding the worst dengue
epidemic from Malaysians but not from foreigners, as highlighted by the
various travel advisories issued by foreign governments alerting their
citizens about the dengue epidemic in Malaysia since last year. The media
blackout only resulted in more unnecessary and avoidable deaths in Malaysia
without protecting the national interests of promoting Malaysia as a safe
tourist destination - whether from terrorists or the killer dengue-carrying
Aedes aegypti mosquito.
I want to conclude by mentioning
the two latest cases of dengue deaths in January 2003, bringing the total of
dengue fatalities to my knowledge to at least 15 for the first month of the
new year. In the first case, Maruthu Pandian, 37, from Rasah Jaya, Seremban,
died of dengue in the Seremban General Hospital on 23rd January after three
days of hospitalization. In the second case, Chai Moy Far, 21, (f) , student
at Taylor's College, Kuala Lumpur, preparing for a medical twinning course,
died of dengue in the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital on 31st January, 2003.
Timely action by Suhakam can not only promote and protect human rights but
even more important, save lives.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National