Former Department of Health minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) went out with a bang when he revealed that the last official document he signed before stepping down on Monday last week was a lawsuit against TV pundits for allegedly spreading false comments about the A(H1N1) flu vaccine.
As the legal action was filed in the department’s name, Yaung’s move marked the first time TV pundits have been sued by a government agency. This, coupled with the online auction of Yaung’s autographed briefcase for charity — which drew a winning bid of more than NT$5 million (US$169,500) from Taiwanese tycoon Terry Gou (郭台銘) — allowed Yaung to exit in style.
President Ma Ying-jou (馬英九) has lauded Yaung, while Gou said he joined the auction to show his admiration for Yaung’s courage in defending his health policy and his love for the underprivileged. However, a closer look at Yaung’s 18-month in service leaves some wondering whether he has lived up to these comments about his strength of character — or whether it’s nothing more than political grandstanding.
Yaung has described the TV pundits’ discussions about the vaccine as sensationalism and cited them as a reason many Taiwanese are reluctant to get vaccinated. He also said the “vaccine does not differentiate between blue and green,” referring to pro-administration and opposition forces. That was a strange comment, coming from someone who rejected the invitation of those pundits, generally perceived as being pro-green, to go on their show to elaborate on the department’s vaccine policy.
Many may also recall the pledge made by Yaung when he became minister in August 2009. He said then that seeking payment from the Taipei City Government on the debt it owes to the National Health Insurance System was high on his agenda.
“The Taipei City Government must pay its debt or the National Health Insurance’s finances will collapse sooner or later,” Yaung said, adding that the city’s debt was the National Health Insurance Bureau’s biggest problem.
However, not only did Yaung shy away from going after Taipei’s debts, the department also remained silent when then-premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) waded into the controversy and said it could not seize the landholdings of local governments to pay for their insurance subsidy debts.
So much for one who prides himself on “sticking to his guns.”
Yaung has won accolades for donating the NT$5 million his briefcase drew, in addition to a personal donation of NT$500,000, to a special account set up by the Bureau of National Health Insurance to help those who cannot afford to pay their insurance premiums.
While the gesture is commendable, hasn’t Yaung thought of how much more he could have done if he had come up with more concrete and timely measures when he was in office to help those in need — some of whom lost their lives because they couldn’t afford to pay their health premiums and seek medical assistance?
On Tuesday, the Control Yuan censured the department for downplaying a probable case of death from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease last year. Asked for comment, Yaung said: “I can’t be bothered [by the Control Yuan’s report].”
This coming from someone praised by Gou as a public servant who is full of “courage and love.”
Indeed, Yaung has left his public service career with a bang, but it was a hollow bang that continues to be the subject of heated debate.