Health Ministry’s Budget 2021 Remains Opaque In Parliament

Dr Adham Baba did not answer questions on the budget cut for public health, nor on the impact of transferring drug allocations out of individual departments on clinicians.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 26 — Despite more than 10 per cent of MPs asking about the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) 2021 budget that controversially cut allocations for health services, Dr Adham Baba did not answer their questions in Parliament.

During his winding-up speech at the Dewan Rakyat, the health minister merely restated previous statements by the MOH and the Ministry of Finance (MOF) that the allocations for drugs and other medical supplies under individual departments and programmes were not reduced, but reclassified to “Specific Programmes”, broken down to two lump-sum budgets of RM2.89 billion for government facilities’ medical supplies and RM1.4 billion for private concession of medical laboratories.

Dr Adham claimed that the reclassification of the budget was to ease the monitoring of the allocation and expenses as a whole for all MOH facilities.

“With regards to the new classification that is used, Your Honorable Minister said that it is better to monitor the expenses, but does Your Honorable Minister know that this will hinder the daily operations in each department?” Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii asked the health minister in Parliament today.

“This will add to the paperwork and add more bureaucracy for those who want to apply from this ‘Specific Programme’. My question is, who will decide which department will get this allocation?

“Will this delay the whole process? Because this will certainly affect the clinical practice of every doctor,” the DAP lawmaker said.

CodeBlue recently spoke to doctors with experience with MOH hospital administrations, who said that with a transfer of the drug budgets out of clinical departments and other health programmes, it means that individual departments will run out of money earlier than mid-term and will have a long wait till they get their additional allocations.

At the same time, Gopeng MP and former Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye also questioned why there was no increase in MOH’s budget, specifically for public health, when the country is facing a Covid-19 epidemic.

“Although we are facing a Covid-19 pandemic, there is no additional allocation, specifically for public health at the grassroots level, where they are facing pressure in doing contact tracing and the like,” Dr Lee said.

“Isn’t it appropriate for the ministry to increase positions for public health so that they can deal with contact tracing problems that appear to be delaying isolation?”

Dr Lee pointed out that job positions in MOH were not increased for next year, remaining static for 2019, 2020, and 2021.

CodeBlue previously reported that MOH’s public health budget had faced an 11.70 per cent decrease from RM5.7 billion in 2020 to RM5 billion in 2021. Disease control under public health also suffered a 0.95 per cent cut from RM843.7 million in 2020 to RM835.7 million in 2021.

Dzulkefly Ahmad, the former health minister under the Pakatan Harapan administration, also said that despite MOH stating that its budget for 2021 has been increased by 4.38 per cent from this year, MOH’s overall allocation is only 9.9 per cent of the total federal budget, as compared to 2020 when MOH got 10.2 per cent of the total government budget.

Dr Adham then replied to all these questions by stating: “We take note of everything that Your Honourables have said.”

The questions raised by the MPs were initially brought up during their individual debates on Budget 2021. Dr Adham had received questions from 32 MPs on health, comprising 14 per cent of Malaysia’s 222 MPs.

During their debates on Budget 2021, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, Dzulkefly, DAP leader Lim Guan Eng, and Lanang MP Alice Lau had criticised the funding cuts for various health services, including pharmacy and supplies, and questioned the transfers of drug allocations to lump-sum budgets under MOH’s “Specific Programmes”.

Kuala Kedah MP Dr Azman Ismail and Jerlun MP Mukhriz Mahathir similarly called for bigger allocations in MOH’s 2021 budget to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as they expressed concern about the cuts for treatment for cancer, kidney disease, and heart disease.

Dr Adham pointed out during his winding-up speech today that MOH, with the collaboration of the Ministry of Higher Education, has provided around 1,200 slots for medical officers to pursue their specialisation programmes.

However, Dr Lee then interjected by stating that although there are slots for medical officers to apply for their specialty studies, contract medical officers are not eligible for these programmes.

“Thank you for always giving us support and views that the career pathway needs more doctors, graduates, doctors, or medical officers, as well as specialists,” Dr Adham replied to Dr Lee, before then moving on with his speech.

Jelutong MP RSN Rayer asked the health minister to also explain why he did not stand up for Health-director general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, whom Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing had accused of not visiting Sabah at the height of the state’s Covid-19 crisis. Dr Noor Hisham only visited Sabah end August, before a spike of coronavirus infections hit the state in October.

“Is the minister scared of Bintulu? Why is he not defending MOH, MOH staff?” Rayer said.

During Dr Adham’s speech, while other MPs wanted further explanations from him, the Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon tried to stop the MPs from asking questions, stating that the time now was only for the minister to speak, while MPs can only ask for an explanation and not debate.

Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh then stood up, saying that the winding-up session for the minister is not supposed to be a one-way session.

“Winding-up sessions by the minister is not one-way traffic by right; we should be allowed to debate,” Yeoh said.

“Ministers come to the Dewan Rakyat not to read answers. If you read answers, anyone can read.”

The deputy speaker then replied: “This is the minister’s floor. To ask for an explanation, I would like to invite the health minister if he wants to respond to Jelutong. Please, Minister.”

But, Dr Adham had already left the hall without replying to most of the Opposition MPs’ questions.

Tiada…,” Rashid said.

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