Call it a gut feeling, but I think the issue of selling Institut Jantung Negara to Sime Darby Berhad is going to be the Barisan Nasional Government's most unpopular decision since the petrol hike. The petrol hike as we know, was one of the reasons for BN's worst ever performance in the 2008 general election. I am not talking about the RM0.78 petrol hike after the election which of course, angered the people even more. I am talking about the earlier ones.
On the outset, the selling of IJN to Sime Darby may look like a simple business deal. But to many Malaysians, it is not.
First, the sentimental reasons - IJN was founded by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the nation's fourth Prime Minister at a time cardiovascular disease became the No 1 killer in Malaysia. So when you are caught in the traffic jam along Jalan Tun Razak like we often do, and when we take a look at IJN, the first thing that comes to mind is Dr Mahathir and the fact that this institution was built by him for the people. The institution is now so popular that people from all over the world seek treatment there. The poor who are only required to pay a nominal fee, are also welcome at IJN. They are never shooed away like some private hospitals. The Government servants and their spouses also enjoy the same treatment, I was told.
Secondly, the commercial reason - why should it be sold to Sime Darby? Why wasn't it open to other companies who specialise in hospitals? Although both the Government and Sime Darby have given the assurance that the poor will still be able to get cheap treatment, people simply don't buy it. True, Sime Darby has the financial capability to increase the salaries of specialists to US$30,000 a month, but where will its profits come from. This has to be made clear. You cannot treat 3,000 rich patients a month for a higher fee and try to balance it up with 50,000 poor patients who pay only the registration fee of RM8.
Thirdly and the most important fact is that the people are now feeling left out from the Government's decision-making process. I make no apology for saying this, but the Government seems to be making decisions these days like as though the people, whom they are answerable to, do not exist. IJN was built from the people's money and Sime Darby is a public-listed company. A Press statement should have been issued a long time ago to inform the people that Sime Darby was making a bid to buy IJN. Then the Government can gauge public opinion before a decision is made. In this case, the Cabinet simply approved the bid. The people only knew about it AFTER the decision was made.
So why isn't the Government talking to the people? It is things like these which make the Government unpopular and give the Opposition a field day!