Parliament should censure Chua Jui Meng if Health Minister refuses to lift the ban on regular publication of information on dengue cases and fatalities at national, state and municipal levels to ensure public awareness of the killer dengue threat to save lives and minimize suffering
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Parliament should censure the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng if he refuses to lift the ban on regular publication of information on dengue cases and fatalities at national, state and municipal levels to ensure public awareness of the killer dengue threat to save lives and minimize suffering.
Both Singapore and Hong Kong authorities have recently warned the danger of the return of the dangerous dengue fever, although it had not been as sensational as the SARS outbreak. In Singapore the number of dengue cases almost doubled in just one week – when 96 people came down with the fever between May 11 and 17, up from 56 cases the week before. With the hot weather brought on by El Nino, the mosquitoes are breeding more and carrying more virulent viruses.
In Malaysia, there has been no word of warning about the danger of the killer dengue threat from the Health Ministry, although the Ministry of Local Government and Housing has started to spend hundreds of thousands of ringgit in a “Dengue Alert” advertisement campaign, as for instance, the more than a half-page advertisement in the New Straits Times yesterday with the logo “Help The Nation – Help Yourselves – Dengue Free Forever”.
The most effective way to ensure public awareness of the killer dengue threat is a regular update of the number of dengue cases and fatalities over the radio, television and the press, which has been banned since early this year, as thanks to Chua Jui Meng, all information on dengue cases and fatalities is now protected information under the Official Secrets Act and anyone who receives, possesses, communicates or uses such information is committing an offence under the Official Secrets Act punishable with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year jail on conviction!
Only Chua has the sole right and power to release any such information about dengue cases and fatalities in Malaysia! As a result, the previous practice of the various state governments and local authorities releasing regular updates about the incidence of dengue cases and fatalities in their respective areas had been stopped altogether, and the last time Malaysians had information about the dengue situation was on 11th March this year, when Chua told Parliament during question time that there had been 3,410 cases and 11 deaths this year till February 22 – which I had said erred seriously on the low side.
The Malaysian public have no information whatsoever about the dengue situation in the past three months, which is the height of public irresponsibility especially as from Malaysian experience, the killer dengue menace is even deadlier than the recent SARS outbreak in claiming over a hundred lives in the country last year despite the lower claim of 57 dengue deaths by Chua in Parliament.
So long as the ban on regular update on dengue cases and fatalities is maintained, it will stand as a classic proof that the government is the root cause of the “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise which Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had so brilliantly diagnosed as a main obstacle to Malaysia achieving full developed nation status – as well as testimony of the absence of the proper mindset necessary if Malaysia is to take the quantum leap to become a K-economy and information society.
Why should Malaysians only get information about the dengue outbreak when Parliament meets quarterly and the Health Minister is asked about it during question-time – which is a most primitive way of handling information in the information age – instead as of right and a routine in a weekly or even daily update, depending on the severity of the situation?
The first thing Parliament should do when it meets on Monday is to demand that Chua revoke the ban on regular publication of information on dengue cases and fatalities or he should be censured in a motion of no confidence for his contempt and disregard for the right to information of Malaysians as well as their right to live in a dengue-free environment.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman