DAP calls for the strict principle of merit to be applied in staffing medical school and hospitals to ensure high medical standard in Malaysia

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, when inaugurating the protem committee of the Kemaman DAP Branch in Kemaman, Trengganu, on Thursday, 4th September 1980 at 5p.m.

DAP calls for the strict principle of merit to be applied in staffing medical school and hospitals to ensure high medical standard in Malaysia.

Meritocracy has been a much-abused word in Malaysia recently. Those who insist on merit are accused of having ulterior motive to perpetuate long-standing injustices and imbalances in education and economic fields, for instance.

This is most deplorable because it confuses two important question: one, the need to correct and redress educational and economic imbalances between different racial group; and secondly, the need to attain and maintain the highest level of standard and excellence in professional fields for the general welfare of all Malaysian.

For instance, it is conceded that in medical, engineering and other professional fields, the Malays and bumiputeras are more under-represented than the other racial groups. The way to correct this imbalance is to greatly increase the number of Malay and bumiputera students pursuing these fields of professional studies.

But this must not sacrifice the equally important objective of attaining and maintaining the highest possible level of professional competence
and excellence in these professional fields, for if there is professional incompetence, the net result is that Malaysian of all races would suffer.

While Malaysian of goodwill and reason do not oppose the great increasing of Malay and bumiputera student for medical, engineering and other profession fields, it is clearly open to question if standard are compromised.

In this connection, I call on the Government and in particular the Education Ministry and the university authorities to give this matter urgent serious attention. Surely, it is not a matter of pride for Malaysia’s profession qualification, whether in medical, engineering and other fields, to be de-recognise in other parts if the Commonwealth or the world?

The reasons that have been given by the first Professor of Medicine of the Medical Faculty of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia as to why he resigned after completing only one year of a two-year assignment should be subject for serious thought by all the relevant authorities.

The first Professor of Medicine of the Medical Faculty of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Professor Ian Grant, in an article in a world medical journal, World Medical, gave his reason for resigning without completing his tenure of Professorship.

Professor Ian Grant said he accepted the appointment of being first Professor of Medicine at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia because when he visited Malaysia briefly in 1973, he was conscious of the three serious defects in the Malaysian medical services.

According to Professor Ian Grant, these three defect were:

• There were too few doctors in Malaysia, particularly in the rural areas;
• There was a predominance of Chinese and Indian medical graduates from the University of Malaya;
• A very high proportion of doctor left the government or university hospital as soon as they were entitled to do so, to pursue vastly more lucrative careers in private practice.

Professor Grant said the ‘obvious solution’ were to increase the total number of medical graduate while maintaining existing standard; to ensure that more Malays were afforded the opportunity of medical training; and to increase the salaries of state-employed doctor (including university staff) to a level at which the temptation to enter private practice would be significantly reduced.

Professor Grant said that when he heard that the new medical school being established at University Kebangsaan was to give preference to Malay applicant, he had no doubt that this was a move in the right direction, and he was delighted when he was invited to become its first Professor of medicine.

Professor Grant took up his appointment with high expectations in January 1978, but he soon realized that something was seriously amiss.
This is Professor Grant’s explanation in his own words:

“Because of the shortage of experienced Malay doctors, it was obvious that the teaching staff of the faculty of medicine in general, and the department of medicine in particular, would have to be multi-racial. I naturally assumed that appointment would be made only on grounds of academic merit and that all members of staff, whether Malay, Chinese or Indian, would receive equal treatment in respect of salaries and promotion prospects.

“This proved not to be the case. There was considerable reluctance to appoint non-Malay lecturers, even if they were of higher calibre than their Malay competitors. Furthermore, discriminatory steps- like imposing a difficult examination in the Malay language on subject totally unrelated to medicine- were taken to prevent the salaries of non-Malay members of staff from rising above a relatively low point in their salary scale.

“Often, a very able non-Malay doctor will receive a lower salary than a more junior and less competent Malay. Malay were preferred for the headship of department to non-Malay who had superior qualifications and experience. Discrimination even extended to academic discipline, and

I was finally forced to resign because the university resolutely declined to take disciplinary action against a Malay lecturer who had refused to undertake his academic duties.”

These are cripplying policies for ensuring the highest possible standard of staffing of the medical school, the hospitals and the medical service.

The DAP urges the Prime Minister to intervene in this important matter to ensure that while steps to redress educational imbalances in the various professional field continue to be taken the staffing of merit and excellence should be strictly adhered to in the staffing of medical schools and hospitals, to ensure that high medical standard are attained and maintained, and not compromised and downgraded.