KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 – Dr Zaliha Mustafa said today that she would look at how her predecessor’s proposed tobacco generational end game (GEG) could be implemented, before deciding on the bill pending in Parliament.
The newly minted health minister, who’s a freshman MP representing Sekijang, noted that the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 moved by former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin – which contains a ban on tobacco and vape for anyone born from 2007 – is currently in the second reading in the Dewan Rakyat and has been scrutinised by a parliamentary special select committee.
“In general, I see some good in it, but I need to look at the details of its implementation. When we want to make a decision, sometimes it cannot be drastic; it must be incremental (kena sikit, demi sikit, demi sikit),” Dr Zaliha told Bernama Radio in an interview.
“This is among the low-hanging fruit that I need to look at.”
Dr Zaliha was responding to a question picked up by Bernama Radio from CodeBlue editor-in-chief Boo Su-Lyn, who asked for examples of policies previously proposed by Khairy that she would continue or discontinue.
In her first media interview, Dr Zaliha expressed pride at being the first woman health minister.
“In this first unity government led by a great person like [Prime Minister] Anwar Ibrahim, this is such an honour,” she told Bernama Radio.
“This is a big challenge. People also see that there must be a difference that I bring to the ministry that was, prior to this, only led by men.”
When asked what new changes she planned to bring, Dr Zaliha simply made general statements about improving the health care system.
“Better health care delivery, like infrastructure. We’re looking at improving services, specialist services, and waiting times, for example.”
In response to a caller who asked about her plans for contract doctors, a longstanding issue, Dr Zaliha said she would have to review the entire “ecosystem” for medical officers in terms of supply and demand, as well as the pathway for placement.
“There’s already an exit plan by the previous government or minister, so I have to look at it again,” she said.
It is unclear what “exit plan” Dr Zaliha was referring to for contract doctors. Khairy told government doctors last September not to hold out hope for the abolishment of the contract system in the public health care sector, saying that the days of permanent posts for all doctors are over.
Dr Zaliha also said the solution for contract doctors needed to involve other agencies or ministries besides the Ministry of Health (MOH), citing the Ministry of Human Resources (MOHR) for example.
However, MOHR is not involved with the human resources of government doctors. It is the Public Service Department (JPA) that determines the number of permanent positions for doctors in MOH, while medical schools are regulated by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). Some government doctors are also under the employ of university hospitals under MOHE.
“I don’t want to promise the sun and moon, but God willing, we will get a decision that involves all related ministries or agencies,” Dr Zaliha said.
Several MPs from the 14th Parliament across the aisle previously criticised Khairy’s plan to ban smoking and vaping for future generations, raising questions on the implementation of the GEG, its impact on the economy, and potential violation of civil liberties, particularly with minors, from wide enforcement powers.
Then-Opposition Leader Anwar – who is now the prime minister heading a unity government comprising Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN), and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) – told CodeBlue last July that he would only vote for the tobacco bill if it was amended to include “mechanisms for effective implementation”.
“There are many issues not resolved. You have to revise it; you don’t bulldoze legislation that has massive impact – rural, Orang Asli – you have to find them, you have to negotiate with them too,” he said then.
Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing from GPS, who is now the tourism, arts and culture minister, told the Dewan Rakyat last March that he opposed Khairy’s proposal to outlaw cigarettes and tobacco and vape products for the next generation, describing it as “ugutan” (threat) against the people.