Many vividly remember Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yeh Ching-chuan’s (葉金川) emotional “I love Taiwan” outburst after he was heckled by overseas Taiwanese students in Geneva in May over the nation’s dubious status at the World Health Assembly.
“Think about it, everyone. Who was it then [during the SARS outbreak in 2003] that risked his life to protect the people in Taiwan? Who could love Taiwan more if that isn’t perceived as an act of love for Taiwan?” a tearful Yeh told a press conference at the time, alluding to the shining “anti-SARS hero” name plate bestowed upon him by then-Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2003 following the SARS outbreak.
A mere three months later, however, it is ironic that someone who has publicly proclaimed his love for Taiwan and claimed to protect Taiwan with his life would so quickly drop his armor and shirk his responsibilities as the nation faces the threat of a surging (A)H1N1 pandemic.
In addition to increasing reports of severe swine flu cases, instances of cluster infections have also been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control. Despite the Department of Health’s promise that locally produced swine flu vaccines would be ready by November at the earliest, the rushed manner in which the vaccine research has been conducted and the way clinical trials have been scheduled after mass production begins have some health experts expressing concern over the vaccines’ safety and ability to combat the (A)H1N1 influenza.
Some local media reported that Yeh’s determination to resign from his post as DOH minister and run in the year-end Hualien County commissioner election is merely because he is complying with Ma’s agenda as incoming Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman. Even if that were the case, Yeh cannot be excused from his share of responsibility. He is still responsible for his choice to yield to Ma’s game of prioritizing a party’s electoral interests over the nation’s epidemic threat.
In an attempt to justify the timing of his departure, Yeh said on Monday that a nation’s epidemic prevention depends not on one individual but teamwork and established mechanisms. Granted, Yeh’s remarks hold validity, but any official with a conscience can also see that when things get tough, that is the time to demonstrate responsibility and stability. These are what are needed now as the nation braces for an (A)H1N1 epidemic. In effect, Yeh appears to be saying his leadership is not needed.
For Yeh, however, it seems that issues pertaining to Taiwan’s public health can be disregarded when there’s a chance to jump on another wagon and further his political career.
He has talked so much about loving Taiwan with his life, but the truth appears to be that Yeh is no greater than someone who puts himself first.
Yeh might still regard himself as an “anti-SARS hero,” but to the general public, the impression that will now be etched in the minds of many will be how Yeh set a ghastly example of treating a crucial government post as a springboard for his own career at the worst possible time.
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