Legislators across party lines yesterday reacted in anger after former Department of Health minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) on Tuesday brushed off allegations that while he was in charge, the department had attempted to cover up the nation’s first likely outbreak of mad cow disease.
Responding to Yaung’s comments — including his outright dismissal of the Control Yuan, which led the probe into the allegations — the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus said he had failed to acknowledge the division of government powers mandated by the Constitution.
“If Yaung can tell the department to simply ignore a Control Yuan censure and the [government watchdog] doesn’t follow up on the behavior, [the Control Yuan] might as well close shop,” DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said.
Yaung, who publicly questioned the expertise of Control Yuan members, was quoted by media as saying: “[We] don’t need to pay attention to the [Control Yuan].”
In a rare rebuke from the pan-blue camp, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) said Yaung should conduct a thorough review of his “serious dereliction of duty.”
A 36-year-old man died in May last year from what appeared to be symptoms of mad cow disease, also known as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. He was believed to have contracted the disease while in the UK, where he lived for eight years before moving back to Taipei.
Department officials initially kept the entire incident under wraps and it wasn’t until December — 21 months after health -authorities were alerted of the case — that they released limited information on the matter, following a flurry of media coverage of leaked details.
Back then, Yaung had claimed he was initially kept in the dark about the outbreak, adding that he was not briefed by his predecessor, Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川), whom he claimed was too busy campaigning for public office.
However, at the press conference on Tuesday, Control Yuan member Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said this version of events was unlikely, given the severity of the situation. There were reasons to doubt that nobody would have informed Yaung in the 16 months he had served as Department of Health minister until news of the case was leaked to media, Chen said.
The Centers for Disease Control, which falls under the department, defended its decision not to publicize the case in December, saying the cause of death had not been confirmed at the time. However, a medical team later ruled it was “extremely likely” that the cause was mad cow disease.
Yaung, who tendered his resignation last month over national health insurance reform, stepped down on Monday last week.
The department and its new minister, Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達), have yet to issue a formal response to the Control Yuan report, which some are regarding as solely targeting Yaung and his administrative team.