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Legco censures Chan over Sars

Matthew Lee

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Fallout from the Legislative Council's Sars inquiry continued

yesterday, with former director of health Margaret Chan unanimously

condemned for her handling of the crisis.

In a motion passed last night, legislators voted 33 to nil, with one

abstention, to condemn Chan for her passiveness and to accept the Sars

inquiry report, which criticised the performance of top health

officials during the outbreak.

Chan is the latest official to suffer the ignominy of either censure

or resignation. The others singled out in the report, Secretary for

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Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong and Hospital Authority

chairman Leong Che-hung, denied any wrongdoing but resigned their

posts following the release of the report earlier this week.

Both said they acted in the name of accountability rather than guilt.

The epidemic last year claimed 299 lives in Hong Kong, devastated the

territory's economy and fuelled public anger at perceived government

ineptitude.

Chan left government service last year for a senior post with the

World Health Organisation. Attempts to reach her by phone at WHO

headquarters in Geneva were unsuccessful last night.

Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang defended Chan during

the Legco debate on the motion. He said she had put in as much effort

as other medical staff in fighting the outbreak.

"The criticisms against Chan in the Legco report revolve around

judgment she made during the outbreak," Tsang said. "That does not

justify the motion amendment which seeks to condemn Chan."

He praised her contribution to government during her 30 years of

service and said the government had no avenue of action planned

against her.

Tim Pang, of the Society for Community Organisation, a group

representing the interests of Sars victims seeking compensation, said

a letter will be sent to the WHO next week asking the body to dismiss

Chan.

"According to the Legco report, Chan was guilty of dereliction of

duty before and during the early stage of the Sars outbreak," he

said. "[Her inaction] had a serious impact on public health and

global health, which should disqualify her from working for the WHO."

Pang said his group will consider asking the government to cancel

Chan's pension as that is the only form of punishment available.

In the report, Chan was criticised for ignoring early signs of an

outbreak in Guangdong in February last year.

She was also blamed for being reluctant to seek legal avenues which

could have hastened the isolation of residents of Amoy Gardens, the

area hardest hit during the outbreak.

Democrat Law Chi-kwong, chairman of the Sars inquiry committee, agreed

that officials should be punished but said the report did not

recommend specific sanctions because that decision is in the hands of

the civil service.

Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum, who moved to condemn Chan, said

it was reasonable for Yeoh to resign under the accountability system.

"But Chan was not being responsible. She failed to legislate Sars

into the law sooner and she did not send anyone to study the Guangdong

situation, which was a major mistake and left serious consequences,"

he said.

Liberal Party vice-chairwoman Selina Chow said the move against Chan

meant nothing to the accountability system, which she suggested the

government review and improve.

"Sars has cost us 299 lives and some 1,400 people are still suffering

from the disease, [Yeoh's and Leong's] resignation is not enough,"

independent Albert Chan said. "Margaret Chan is most guilty of

dereliction of duty, but she is smart, she left Hong Kong before it

all ended."

Medical sector legislator Michael Mak said it is regretful that Chan

has never publicly apologised to the victims of Sars.

There was sympathy in the chamber for the frontline Sars workers who

risked their lives. Liberal Sophie Leung broke into tears when talking

about how grateful she is to the workers.

All rights reserved.

END


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