THE proposal by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun to include health as one of eight new parliamentary select committees (PSC) in Parliament to monitor government ministries is a welcome and vital move for the future of Malaysian healthcare.
With health usually making up the third largest allocation and comprising around 10% of the overall Federal Government budget, and now with the billions of ringgit spent on our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, having a separate PSC on this issue is necessary.
The need for a PSC on health goes beyond just the immediate issue of providing oversight to and evaluation of the government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic. We also have long outstanding and urgent issues related to healthcare 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 PSC on health is not a magic bullet to solve or address issues such as healthcare financing, which will take time and political will to address.
However, it will help provide visibility, guidance and direction to the Executive and civil servants. It will also, if necessary, act as a check and balance towards any policy excesses or problems caused by proposed legislation that 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 Health Ministry, particularly since it is the budget holder, regulator and healthcare provider.
The Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2017, which forces patients who are referred from private healthcare facilities to pay first class rates at public hospitals for treatment and medication, is one example of legislation that is currently causing hardship for cancer patients that could have been prevented if a PSC 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.
Proceedings of the select committees should also be open for
the public to attend. It is not necessary to have them broadcast, 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 , Founder and chief executive officer Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy
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