Pakatan Rakyat partner KeADILan has accused the Barisan Nasional government of trying to shirk its responsibility to provide affordable and high-quality health-care services by trying to privatize the National Heart Institute (IJN) just when the economy was about to enter a long, lean spell.
KeADILan Information Chief Tian Chua said although the privatization plan has been put on hold, voters - especially those in Kuala Terengganu - should still send the BN a strong message to register their displeasure.
“KeADILan therefore urges the voters in Kuala Terengganu not to be misled and to reject the Barisan Nasional in the by-election next month. Send them a strong message not to try to privatise IJN just because the economy is slowing down,” Chua said in a statement.
The government had given plantations-and-services conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd approval-in-principle to take a 51 percent stake in IJN.
But the news sparked a huge outcry as the people worried the stake sale would lead to even higher medical costs - forcing Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib Abdul Razak to freeze the deal.
“This privatization proposal has created strong reaction from the public,” Najid admitted to reporters yesterday.
However, he denied the decision was made with an eye on the upcoming Kuala Terengganu by-election.
Seen as a crucial test of popularity for Najib and the Umno-led Barisan, the KT parliamentary seat fell vacant after deputy education minister Razali Ismail died last month. Nomination date for the by-election candidates will fall on Jan 6, while polling day is on Jan 17.
How can the deal benefit the people?
The divestment would have also cost the nation a loss of RM10 million a year as the 99.99 percent government-owned IJN was a profitable company that made about RM20 million in profits each year.
Conversely, Sime’s purchase of the 51 percent stake from the finance ministry would mean the company stood to gain RM10 million annually. In the long run, the investment would have provided Sime with a stable and strategic source of income.
“But it is not clear how the privatization of IJN can benefit the people, especially since the people would be forced to bear higher health care costs, while the country loses a good and steady source of income,” Chua said.
Majority of patients from middle and lower income groups
Chua also pointed out that the majority of IJN’s patients were from the middle and lower income groups as well civil servants.
“Sime Darby as a private-sector company will have to focus on profit maximization. To fully unlock IJN’s potential, Sime will have to transform IJN into a commercial vehicle focused on churning out profits until the privatization project is successfully paid off,” he said.
For example, Subang Jaya Medical Centre - which is currently owned by Sime - charges RM40,000 to 50,000 for a ‘single bypass’ operation compared with IJN’s RM25,000 to 30,000.
“The people, in particular the civil servants, who need medical treatment would have to bear the higher costs if Sime Darby took over IJN,” Chua said.
By contrast, the Pakatan Rakyat had in its alternative budget proposal for 2009 unveiled last October proposed that public health service charges be either reduced or scrapped altogether to ease the burden of the people, especially those who cannot afford to pay, he added.