13 May 2010

Whistleblower gets show-cause letter

By Ding Jo-Ann

PETALING JAYA, 13 May 2010: A doctor who went public with serious allegations of mismanagement and cronyism in an Orang Asli hospital in Gombak has continued to be targeted for her outspokenness.

Dr Selva Vathany Kanapathi Pillai told The Nut Graph she received a show-cause letter from the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) last month.

"The JHEOA asked me to explain why I took part in a Bar Council press conference without my department head Dr Saaiah Abdullah's permission," Dr Selva said in a phone interview.

"The letter said that if I did not reply with an adequate explanation, action would be taken against me."

The Bar Council press conference was held on 11 Feb 2010 to highlight Dr Selva's complaints about the Gombak hospital. It raised issues such as the high rate of malnutrition among Orang Asli children, and the use of hospital facilities by non-Orang Asli patients. This was despite the fact that the hospital was specifically set up to improve Orang Asli health.

The Bar Council had also called on the hospital to be placed under the purview of the Health Ministry instead of the Rural and Regional Development Ministry, which is currently the case.

Dr Selva was also present when Orang Asli representatives handed in a memorandum to the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) on 16 March, complaining about poor services at the hospital.

JHEOA pressure

Dr Selva had earlier told The Nut Graph how she was sidelined by the hospital's management due to her raising of mismanagement issues.

Dr Selva (Courtesy of Bar Council)Shortly after she sent a formal complaint letter to the Health Ministry in late 2009, she was told she was to be transferred to Kedah.

"I am not under JHEOA's authority anymore because of my transfer. I am now directly under the Health Ministry," said Dr Selva.

"It doesn't make sense that I am sent a show-cause letter by the very department and people that I have been making complaints about."

Dr Selva was unable to supply The Nut Graph with a copy of the JHEOA letter as it was marked "sulit".

Dr Selva said the show-cause letter had also asked her to give an explanation about why she had participated in a demonstration in front of the Gombak hospital on 24 Feb 2010.

"I wasn't even at the hospital on the day of the demonstration," Dr Selva said. "I was already preparing to leave because of my transfer to Kedah."

The Nut Graph previously tried to reach JHEOA director-general Datuk Mohd Sani Mistam for comment on issues affecting the hospital, but was told he was away till 17 May. Requests for his deputy, Nisra Nisran Asra Ramlan, to respond were also in vain.

No resolution

Dr Selva is vexed that despite the recent attention the Gombak Hospital has been receiving, the authorities are focusing on issuing show-cause letters instead of dealing with the malnutrition issue among Orang Asli children.

"There is already a comprehensive Health Ministry food-basket programme in place. It is not just for the 'hardcore poor', as claimed by JHEOA's director-general, but for all malnourished children," said Dr Selva.

Under the programme, underweight children receive monthly food baskets from the Health Ministry. The children are monitored until they fall within the recommended weight for their age.

Joseph Entulu Belaun (Source:
parlimen.gov.my) On 17 April 2010, The Malay Mail reported that Rural and Regional Development Deputy Minister Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun had refuted Dr Selva's claims in Parliament.

He stated that a thorough investigation had been carried out, which showed that there was no truth to her statements.

"In short, she is lying," the deputy minister reportedly said.

Dr Selva, however, pointed out that the Rural and Regional Development Ministry was not the appropriate body to investigate her claims. "They are not medical practitioners, nor do they have expertise on medical ethics or medical management," she said.

"I have full faith that the Health Ministry would be able to conduct a fair and transparent investigation through the Malaysian Medical Council."

She added, however, that if concrete steps were not taken to improve the situation, she would not hesitate to raise the matter with international organisations such the World Health Organisation.

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