Noor Hisham in tough spot over questions of impartiality

PETALING JAYA: The post of health director-general requires that the holder be guided by science in the performance of his duties, according to one who has served in the position before.

The comment from Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman comes at a time when current director-general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, faces questions about his impartiality.

Noor Hisham announced last Sunday that Parliament, which was to reconvene on Monday after last Thursday’s proceedings were called off, would be suspended due to the detection of a few Covid-19 cases in the building. This called into question his independence and neutrality.

Abu Bakar, who held the post from 1991 to 2001, said many questions had been raised by the suspension of Parliament, adding that the rationale behind it was not clear to him. Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman.

Speaking to FMT, he asked whether Noor Hisham was following the same standard imposed on all gatherings in a closed environment or applying a higher standard on Parliament.

He remarked that some people might see high stakes in a parliament session since it would be a gathering of political leaders.

“I imagine the DG to be in a tough situation, but all the more reason to be professional and to be guided by science,” he said.

He said it was crucial for any director-general to work in the interest of the public and that this must be apparent to the people so that trust would be maintained.

The director-general, he added, must ensure that all his decisions were made with professionalism rather than political considerations.

“Of course, in doing so the political bosses may well disagree and overrule the views of the DG, which is their right. However, the DG should provide the appropriate professional advice, which is his duty.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, head of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, agreed that public perception of the director-general’s role was important.

He said people in positions like Noor Hisham’s would have failed in their roles if they were unable to command the trust of the public.

“They have failed because they will be seen by the public as being unable to speak truth to power and willing to compromise and change their professional advice based on the need to keep their jobs,” he said. “Once that trust is broken, it is hard to regain it.

“And a successful response during a public health emergency requires that the people have trust and confidence in health authorities.”

by Imran Ariff

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