KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Lembah Pantai Member of Parliament (MP) Fahmi Fadzil today questioned why police investigations are still being carried out against contract doctors who participated in a strike on Monday despite Health Minister Adham Baba’s assurance that the medical officers will not be penalised for doing so.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday (28 July), Fahmi referenced a report by local news portal Malaysiakini stating that police took the statements of medical personnel at the COVID-19 quarantine centre in MAEPS Serdang at 3am today.

“I am seeking for an explanation on whether the minister’s statement is for the whole government, or just the Ministry of Health, or on behalf of certain parts of the government, or even from himself,” he said.

Dr Adham told Parliament that contract doctors who participated in the walkout will not be subjected to any disciplinary actions or punishment, as it is their right to go on such a strike.

A day prior, Astro Awani reported Dang Wangi district police chief Assistant Commissioner Mohamad Zainal Abdullah as saying that investigation papers related to the Hartal Doktor Kontrak movement will be opened.

This is despite Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani’s earlier statement that police have received no indication that the strike will threaten public order.

Asheeq Ali, a lawyer representing the frontliners at the centre, tweeted on Wednesday that the questioning began as early as 11.45pm on Tuesday.

“12 doctors who had participated in #HartalDoktorKontrak had their statement taken. Police will continue their probe tomorrow for doctors not on duty tonight,” he said.

Asheeq noted that the investigations were reportedly carried out over the alleged unauthorised presence of media at the treatment centre. An officer from the Health Ministry had reportedly made a police report regarding the incident.

Calling the probe “uncalled for”, Asheeq said that the police’s move to take the medical frontliners’ statement in the wee hours of the morning “in a time where they are on duty saving the nation” is “a form of intimidation that cannot be compromised with”.

“They are already overworked and exhausted, and you can still allow this? Shame!” he said, addressing the Health Ministry.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Parliament sitting on Wednesday, Dr Adham said that his ministry is not involved with the ongoing police investigation.

Reiterating his earlier stance in Parliament, he said that the Health Ministry has issued instructions to have disciplinary action taken against the doctors who had participated in the strike.

Dr Adham also told reporters that MAEPS is not under the purview of the Health Ministry, but is under the National Disaster Management Agency, a body under the authority of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

When asked why the doctors were questioned by police for up to four hours, the Health Minister said that the question should be directed to police.

The massive walkout on Monday took place after Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s “half-baked” proposal to lengthen their contracts has failed to placate their demands regarding their security of tenure.

Former health minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad on Tuesday sought clarification from Dr Adham on whether the government will consider pushing for an extension of eight to 10 years instead of the two years proposed by the government.

“You cannot do postgraduate studies in that (short amount of) time,” the Kuala Selangor MP told Parliament.

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz earlier told Parliament that affected contract doctors will have two years added to their contracts.

The extension will cost the government approximately RM1.2 billion.

Contract extensions merely “a sugarcoating statement to shut us up”: Contract doctors reject short-term proposals mooted by PM, Cabinet

Among the key suggestions earlier put forth by Muhyiddin and the Cabinet regarding the security of tenure of contract doctors include offering a two-year contract extension for medical officers, pharmacists, and dental officers who have completed their compulsory service.

For medical officers and dental officers who have been selected to do the relevant Masters’ programme, the government may grant a four-year contract extension, according to the government’s plans.

In a statement on 24 July, the Hartal Doktor Kontrak movement said that simply adding more years to such contracts is not a means of solving the problem but merely “a sugarcoating statement to shut us up”.

“We know well how the system works, we are not buying it. Nobody wise enough will accept it. Stop giving us a half-baked solution given by people who are not even in this field, or don’t even know how the system works, or maybe don’t even bother to think thoroughly about it because the problem is not theirs,” they added.

Stressing the importance of offering permanent posts to all contract medical and other healthcare officers, Hartal Doktor Kontrak said that the lack of job security for contract doctors will not be remedied through such proposed extensions.

“A contract medical doctor is forever seen as a second-class doctor compared to their permanent counterparts,” they said.

The movement added that the short duration of extensions is absurd, given that it usually takes “many years” before medical officers are accepted into the Master’s programme.

“An extension of contract for a maximum of 4 years for those accepted into the Master’s programme also seems bizarre, as the duration of the programme itself is a minimum of 4 years,” Hartal Doktor Kontrak noted.

“This shows the (ministers’) lack of understanding in our local specialist training,” they added.

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