"I believe in a country where hard work and merit, not privilege or background, determines success."
Tony Blair 2005

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Reality Bites : Police Sucks

Grandma, 91, dies after robbery attack
Update by LEE YUK PENG of The Star

MALACCA: A 91-year-old grandmother, who was attacked by an assailant before robbing her of RM10 cash, a bangle, an earring and two rings on Tuesday when she was alone at home, died at the Malacca hospital this morning.

Goh Ah Neh had cooked her favourite bowl of meesua for lunch at her home in Banda Hilir when the assailant confronted her.

“He even told her that he would kill her because she will be able to recognise him,” said Goh’s granddaughter Teh Seo Fong.

Police have classified the case as murder, said Melaka Tengah OCPD ACP Sidin Abdul Karim.

Snatch thieves and robbers, these despicable groups of people are getting front page news these days. However, this problem has been among us for a long time. It had to take the sacrifice of an innocent life before the relevant authorities could take note. Even then, the police has shown great inadequacies in dealing with this problem.

I could still remember the reply of a police officer during the time when a police report was being made with regards to a pickpocketing incident. "Biasalah itu. Kita tak boleh buat apa-apa." (That is the usual case. We cannot do anything.) The tone of resignation of the police itself speaks volumes. Firstly, the police prefers to take a back seat rather than tackling the bull by its horns. Secondly , it reflects the lackaidasical attitude of our police force. Till today , the same stretch of road famous as a shopping haven, remains plagued by pickpocketing and snatch thieves.

I believe that the police need to take a more serious and upfront role in battling this menace. There needs to be more plainclothes policemen to nab unsuspecting thieves. In tandem, the law needs to increase the penalties for such crimes currently deemed as minor offences. Ultimately, the Government needs to get the ball rolling. The Malaysian public is getting tired of reading story after story of snatch thief victims bearing the brunt of this unhealthy scourge.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The ugly side of the internet

In the letter section of the Star,

Beware of online snare
I HAVE a teenage son who is addicted to online games. It gives me no pride to admit this. It is out of desperation I write this open letter to all parents with the hope that they will not have to go through what I have gone through.

This is surely not an isolated case of video game addiction. The technology of playing games interactively online is indeed exciting. Pitching one's skill against probably the best in the world. Even the thrill of shooting at a friend across the room using a keyboard provides the adrenaline rush and thus the excitement and resulting addiction.

It is indeed a nightmare phase for any parent. Trying to get these children to concentrate on their studies would often fall on deaf ears. Even appeals to these cybercafe owners to restrict admission to school children are usually not entertained. Afterall, this is their bread and butter. The authorities themselves are powerless to close these cybercafes as they have legally no jurisdiction. Thus they continue to flourish in areas where it is profitable ie around schools and colleges.

Tackling this problem is no easy task. Trying to protect children from computer games will almost prove futile. Computer games have weaved itself into the fabric of everyday life. It is the challenge of educating our children to think more maturely with regards to the limits of computer gaming. Limiting or restricting access to computer games would only create more rebellion. Thus understanding adolescent mentality is probably the greatest asset for any parent.

Bringing up children in this era of computer age is no easy task. On most occasions, parents seem more aloof about the ins and outs of computing. This is where I feel the weakness lies. It should be the aim of every parent to equip themselves with the latest technological advancement there is. Learning how to operate the computer is the first vital step. Children and adolescent are an impressionable group. Therefore, it is important that they get the correct views and guidance from their parents rather than their friends. Getting better information from their parents will make them role models. On the other hand, if parents allow their children to learn incorrect use of the internet from their friends, it will no doubt degenerate into an addiction.

Therefore parents should not sit back and let their children rule these computers. They should take charge and show them that you are a better source of learning about computers than their friends. Exposing them to good games and the positive side of the internet must be done early. Warning them of the perils of this wonderful tool should also be the responsibility of the parent provided they know what perils lie in the first place.

The bottomline is simple. If you want your children to make full effective and positive use of the internet, learn it yourself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Issues of local medical education system

An excerpt from a letter in the NST,

It is common knowledge that a private medical degree locally costs more than RM250,000 in fees alone. That figure will also be the same for the public universities. The only difference is that those in the public universities can get an almost 90 per cent subsidy as students pay less than RM20,000 in fees. I think, with such heavy subsidies, it is fair that graduates from public medical schools should be bonded to serve the public for up to 10 years. Those who fail to serve should be made to pay the amount of public money spent to educate them.

Medical graduates who were on full government scholarships, are required to do compulsory service for a certain number of years. Sadly, this rule has not been consistently observed and many are allowed to breach this understanding. There has been many cases where doctors are allowed to leave for private practice despite not fulfilling the years of service as stipulated in their scholarship offers. This again points to inefficient and poor management by the relevant authorities.

I agree that all local graduates should be forced to serve for a number of years in public service in addition to the compulsory service currently in place. After all, it is the public's money that were spent in educating them in local universities. Local graduates pay peanuts for their medical courses here. Because of this, many under-appreciate the actual priviledge and costs of their medical education.

Providing quality education is a gem for any medical school. Maintaining standards of education is a quality that must be defended. Diluting quality benefits no one and only serves to snub the trust that the public have entrusted in these medical institutions. It may also unfairly put local graduates at a disadvantage and draw away recognition that is due to them. Therefore, the current practice of accomodating any unhappy applicant by political force is an unwelcomed trend and should not be encouraged. Perhaps they should reapply the following year and their persistence may be a plus point that may be recognised by these universities.

Mind you, even in foreign countries, not all bright students are accepted. But those with a burning desire to study medicine would be so persistent that many reapply several times before being accepted to study medicine. In Malaysia, we are so pampered into falsely believing that entering university is a right. Even politicians fail to recognise that it should be the university that should have the final say as to whether a student is accepted or otherwise.

Having said that, the entrance into universities has to be more transparent. There has to be clear guidelines as to how applications are processed and the criteria for a successful candidate. Disguising favouritism practices in the name of meritocracy only fans the flames of distrust and anger. Preuniversity entrance examinations have to be standardised. If the Government should insist on the matriculation programme, then all Malaysians should have an opportunity to choose regardless of race.

For Malaysia to progress, there has to be changes to the current system in place. Perhaps removing the subsidisation of medical education may help sieve the genuinely interested from the pretenders. Making financial sacrifices is certainly a strong motivating force to excel. Perhaps this is the missing link.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Another example of absurdity

In the Star,

Smokers of smuggled cigarettes to face hefty fines
News Update by Kuldeep S. Jessy of The Star

BAGAN DATOH: Smokers of smuggled cigarettes could be fined RM100 per packet from Aug 1, under a new move of the Customs Department to combat the illegal import of the contraband.

"We are losing about RM1.1 bil in unpaid duty yearly. If there is no demand, there will be no supply. We are going all out to stop the smuggling of cigarettes into the country," he said Friday.

Smokers of smuggled cigarettes would be fined RM100 for each box for the first offence. The fine would be RM2, 000 per packet a second offence. They would be charged in court if they commit the offence for a third time and could face higher fines and jailed for up to two years.

Once again the authorities are barking up the wrong tree. To fine smokers of smuggled cigarrettes in my opinion is an obviously futile effort. First and foremost, the authorities cannot even enforce "no smoking" zones. Now, they would like to penalise smokers of smuggled cigarrettes? How are they to trace these smokers? Think about it.

They should nab the vendor first for buying smuggled goods. How is the consumer to know which is smuggled and which is otherwise? And who on earth is going to enforce this rule? The Customs Department? I think they certainly do have more important tasks than this, don't they?

This rule is certainly going to be a futile exercise. It does not take a nuclear scientist to figure that out. Why make the statement in the first place? This again points to the inexperience and immaturity of those holding high positions?

There is certainly no surprise that these absurdities keep creeping up considering the way the Government promotes its staff. It is not based on merit and skill but seniority. One can not do any work but stay in the Government for ages and still get promoted. Not to mention the now seemingly worthless titles accorded by our royalties.

Monday, June 14, 2004

From Russia with Love

Russia is now offering more places to our aspiring medical students. They have purportedly one of the best medical schools in the world. If you look through the list of medical institutions recognised by the MMC, there is actually a very long list. Of course, traditionally countries which attract medical students are UK, Ireland, India and Australia. These countries have very established medical curriculums and are known for their high standards. Russia remain a relative unknown until of late.

Despite the prestige surrounding these foreign medical schools, ultimately it is the local universities that are in the best position to produce medical graduates for this country. They should be more in tune with local disease demographics. For example, some medical schools in the western hemisphere hardly stress on treatment of tropical diseases like dengue. It is because it is practically non-existent in these countries. However, the training of proper skills especially history taking and physical examinations is in my opinion inferior to foreign institutions, where less emphasis is put on these "soft" skills.

Despite our claims that foreign institutions should adhere to strict guidelines set by the MMC, it is local institutions that flout these rulings. The quality of the curriculum is deteriorating. It is mainly due to the reluctance of those in power to change things. They are pretty much happy with the status quo. Their reasoning is that it has produced medical graduates before and therefore why should there be a change. Medicine is a dynamic field and the curriculum has to change with the times. Gone are the days when medical schools are all about digesting facts. There is a trend towards earlier clinical exposure. This is believed to enhance one's skill in learning and communication with patients. Unfortunately, this trend has not caught on in many major local institutions. As mentioned in my previous blog, even final year medical students do not spend enough time in the wards.

Local universities must change if they are to challenge the standards of other universities. There has to be emphasis on earlier clinical and research exposure. We have to encourage students to think critically not just being spoonfed with medical facts. We are lagging behind and unfortunately spiralling downwards. It is time to acknowledge the existence of and end medieval favouritism practices. This will only deepen the grave that we have dug ourselves.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Medical students : Is the current course adequate?

My recent attachment in the medical ward has caused me to question the curriculum of the medical school in University Malaya. I still remember my clinical years in Canada where the 3rd and 4th(final) year medical students were thrown into the ward full time, where they will join the medical team on duty. From trivial blood taking to the management of real patients in the hospitals, the medical students will be fully involved. Medical students clerk the cases, the intern or houseman would double check before informing the medical officer in the team who will in turn inform the specialist. Medical students would do on call duties with the houseman/intern and medical officer/resident on duty.

In my short duration at University Malaya Medical Centre so far, I hardly see medical students in the ward on the team. Even the students who are assigned to take blood samples, do not turn up regularly. This is surprising when UMMC is supposedly a training university hospital. No medical students are in sight during most of the rounds that are done. None are assigned to be on call. This is surprising when Internal Medicine should be one of the major rotations, yet no medical students are in sight. This is indeed a worrisome trend and point to a possible deteriorating quality of new graduates.

The occasional students that turn up would look lost as no team is assigned to them. Some even would approach us begging for cases to be seen. The bottomline is that University Hospital looks nothing like a teaching hospital. I only hope that University Malaya is not living based on past glories. Their medical students need more involvement in ward work and teachings on the job rather than lectures and tutorials which will not enrich one's experience in medicine.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Rolling back the years

While rummaging through one of my drawers, I stumbled on a newspaper clipping that I had kept for almost 10 years. It was regarding the first medical school and the picture depicted the registration of its first batch of students, for which I am one of them.

It was a memorable occasion and was certainly the start of my medical journey. It was probably the start for IMC (now IMU). The date on the newspaper clipping read 30 November 1993.

MiTV vs Astro

At last, we have some competition in the Pay TV field. Astro can no longer claim monopoly in this area. They have recently been very inconsiderate by planning an increase in subscription rates ,against the wishes of most subscribers. Astro's services have not been that great either. Transmission is often interrupted by even the slightest of rainstorms.

So the creation of a new Pay TV station is most welcomed and should keep Astro's on its toes. MiTV appears to be charging a cheaper rate as well. $80 for 50 channels is pretty good. But we still have to wait and see if the channels they offer are worth subscribing to.

So Astro buck up or be banished into obscurity!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Puzzling refusal

In Malaysiakini,

PM, DPM refuse to sign anti-corruption pledge
6:51pm Wed Jun 2nd, 2004

All Malaysian cabinet ministers, save for one, have refused to volunteer for Transparency International’s (TI) latest programme which called on them and their deputies to pledge their personal commitment in fighting corruption................... Notable abstainers were Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - who has frequently pushed an anti-corruption agenda since assuming office last year - and his deputy Najib Abdul Razak.

Here is a sample of the pledge

The question would be why. Perhaps the PM and his deputy do not quite trust the organisers of such a drive. But I think that it only re-commits politicians and reminds them of their stand against corruption. We only have to wait for reasons by our PM , if any is forthcoming. In the meantime, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Transparency International

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Health Suffers Again

From Malaysiakini,

Treasury orders cutbacks, health expenditure slashed
Yoon Szu-Mae
2:08pm Tue Jun 1st, 2004

The Health Ministry has ordered significant cutbacks in its expenditure after receiving a Treasury directive that there will be no increase in its financial allocation for 2004.

As a result, the Health Ministry now finds that it will not be able to meet staff salaries across the country by as much as RM210 million, unless it undertakes cost-cutting measures.

At least one hospital, Hospital Miri, has instructed its staff to use "cheaper alternative drugs" as part of its cost-cutting measures.

Meeting the shortfall

In order to meet the massive salary shortfall, then Health Ministry secretary-general Alias Ali has informed all section and unit heads to:

1. hold off the creation or filling of any new positions, unless critical and necessary, and
2.review overtime salary payments.

"In general, it was found that the ministry will face a shortage in the salary payments as much as RM210.24 million for 2004," said Alias in a March 19 letter.

"Seeing that there will no additional allocation for 2004, this shortage will have to be supported by savings from the ‘general objectives' area under the 2004 estimated administrative budget."

Among the items identified for cutbacks under the ‘general objectives’ area are vehicles and utilities.

Departments are also asked to reduce the frequency of staff attendance at conferences and meeting, encourage the use of government premises for meetings and training programmes, ensure that staff transfers are based on need, and to "conserve the use of water, electricity, telephone and department vehicles".

The budget for replacement vehicles is also earmarked for a reduction, from RM50 million to RM20 million.

The ministry announced a cap on funding for non-governmental organisations to RM5 million, while departments are not allowed to hire new trainers, except for scholarship expenses already given prior approval by the Treasury.

When contacted, Health Ministry's deputy secretary-general (finance) Ahmad Hashim told malaysiakini that he could not comment on the cutbacks as the information was strictly "for internal use only".

Budget deficit

These cuts have come amidst the announcement last week by Health Minister Chua Soi Lek that the present doctor-patient ratio in government hospitals stands at a disconcerting one to 5,000.

Only 75 percent of positions for doctors in government hospitals have been filled, or 10,195 out of 13,457 positions.

Despite the lack in resources, the government has also recently announced its intention to implement a two-tier health system within publicly-funded hospitals.

Government hospitals will soon accommodate ‘private wings’, which allow the rich to get faster, and possibly better, treatment, at a price.

At a budget consultation early this month, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced intention to slash this year’s budget deficit from 5.4 percent to less than 4.5 percent, through a reduction in government expenditure.

It is learnt that the cutbacks will affect all ministries.

However, prior to this, it was only known that the government would be cutting back on development expenditures, not essential services.

"I believe the private sector can accommodate whatever reduction in government's expenditure as again in the past," Abdullah had said.

How on earth did we come out with a $210 million deficit? There must be something else wrong other than those mentioned in the above article. All this when there is still a substanstial number of positions to be filled as highlighted repeatedly in the press. What went wrong?

MISMANAGEMENT, I say. With this huge budget deficit, I think that it would be appropriate to launch an inquiry into this matter. This will enable us to pinpoint the cause of such a financial mess. Blabbering about nitty gritties like overtime allowances is unjustified and uncalled for. This budget deficit is surprising when many hospitals and clinics nationwide still appear under-equipped and poorly staffed. Where did the money go to? Just vehicles, utilities and courses? Utter rubbish.

The Health Ministry's accounts need to be audited immediately. There is more to it than meets the eye. I am sure we will discover many skeletons in the closet! Ultimately, the MOH staff should not suffer when we do not really know the reasons for such a huge deficit. Perhaps this should even raise some eyebrows at the Anti-Corruption Agency.

We want answers not some lame internal directives encouraging thriftiness! It is time for accountability lest a further suffering for its already unhappy staff.

Posthumous Humiliation

The Noritta murder trial is nothing but a real-life daytime soap. The stories at times detail explicit and personal sexual information of Noritta. This certainly satisfies the hunger of our Malaysian population for juicy gossips. However, Noritta and her family continues to be humiliated nationwide with information of Noritta's sexual escapades. No one knows as of yet what exactly happened on that fateful night but many have now labelled Noritta a slut or prostutite based on reports to date.

I feel that this courtroom drama should not be published in the media till the final verdict is announced. This will save the family continued humiliation as more information is put forth. They have suffered enough through Noritta's death and now they have to continue to bear the burden of suffering by reliving the life and final moments of Noritta in full view of the public. I am quite surprised that all this information was allowed to be published! At least respect Noritta and her family as such.

I hope that this saga will have a speedy ending. I dare not think of what the family is currently going through. I am sure the pain will be truly unbearable.
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