The proposal by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun to include health as one of eight new parliamentary select committees in Parliament to monitor government ministries, is a welcome and vital move for the future of Malaysian health care.
With health usually making up the third largest allocation and comprising around 10 percent of the overall federal government budget, and now with the billions spent as a result of the Covid-19 response, having a separate PSC on this issue is necessary.
The need for a Parliamentary Select Committee on Health goes beyond just the immediate issue of providing oversight to and evaluation of the government’s management of the Covid-19 crisis.
We also have long outstanding and urgent issues related to health care reforms, infrastructure gaps in Sarawak and Sabah, contract doctors, financing, and even the escalating cost of health services which need informed debate, discussion, and political commitment. Too many of these issues have been kicked down the road for decades for the next government to figure out.
A Parliamentary Select Committee on Health is not a magic bullet to solve or address issues, such as health care financing, which will take time and political will to address. However, it will help provide visibility, guidance and direction to the Executive and the civil servants.
It will also, if necessary, act as a check and balance towards any policies’ excesses or problems caused by proposed legislation which may arise. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have knowledgeable Members of Parliament to be on the committee so that the relevant issues and questions can be raised.
A select committee is much needed to provide rigorous oversight to the actions, policies, and governance of the Ministry of Health, particularly since it is the budget holder, regulator, and health care provider.
The Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2017, which forces patients who are referred from private health facilities to pay first class rates at public health care for treatment and medication, is one example of a legislation that is currently causing hardship for cancer patients, but could have been prevented if a Parliamentary Select Committee on Health had been set up back then.
PSCs have the potential to raise such issues and introduce amendments, preferably before they become part of legislation.
The proceedings of the select committees should also be open for the public to attend. It is not necessary to have them broadcasted but it is important that people who would like to view and be informed on issues of interest be able to do so.
Azrul Mohd Khalib is the chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.