Former health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad urged his successor Dr Adham Baba and the latter’s two deputies to either take charge of the ministry’s decision-making or resign.
He said this after the ministry’s director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said he was merely a messenger representing the collective views of the ministry’s experts working behind the scenes.
Dzulkefly said many were confused by Noor Hisham’s emphasis on being a messenger rather than explaining the science behind the ministry’s decisions.
“Immediately you get to ask, what is the basis for this judgment call?
“More importantly to many, this exposes and vindicates the claim that the movement control order was sufficient to rein in the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic without declaring an emergency, provided it is implemented effectively and stringently,” he told Malaysiakini.
He said Malaysia has lost political leadership and seemed to run “almost on autopilot” since the Pakatan Harapan government was ousted last year.
He stressed that Adham – along with his deputies Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali and Aaron Ago Dagang – must work as a team with the ministry’s bureaucrats and technocrats.
“However, at the end of the day, it is always the executive – the minister – who must take charge and take responsibility. The buck stops at him.
“That’s the reason why the public are now saying the minister and his two deputies are makan gaji buta (holding a sinecure office). Why? Because they (the public) don’t see their (ministers’) leadership or be seen as taking responsibility.
“After I left, it is the director-general who is seen like taking charge, especially in handling the daily press conferences. The public says, ‘There are three of them now – One minister and two deputy ministers. where are they?’ The situation has worsened and requires them to be seen and be responsible, not just the DG.
“You must be visible, don’t fear to be criticised. And don’t only work to be praised,” he said.
If they fail to size up to the task of tackling the ongoing health crisis, Dzulkefly said, they should “do the gracious thing”, which is to resign or surrender their post to the prime minister and allow the prime minister to decide the next course of action.
Dzulkefly also urged the Health Ministry to engage with experts outside the ministry, both in the public and private sectors.
Many are already offering suggestions to improve the government’s pandemic response, he said. Those suggestions can be picked up by the ministry and co-opted into the government’s Covid-19 response.
He said he felt vindicated when the government adopted many of the suggestions laid out by a group of experts in an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
This included placing Covid-19 patients with little to no symptoms in home quarantine instead of hospitalising them and using rapid antigen tests more widely to keep pace with the spread of the pandemic.
“We don’t actually have to invoke the emergency ordinance to ‘nationalise’ (private hospital) facilities to get access to them for the Health Ministry to be able to reduce our burden in Covid-19 hospitals.
“So much could have been done earlier if only the minister or those in the Health Ministry listened to others too, not just within the Health Ministry alone,” he said. – Malaysiakini