In less than 24 hours of the resignation of the director general of the health department, our Health Minister Zahid Maleque has come up with a claim that his ministry has earned "good scores" in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
The resignation of the DG health, Prof Abdul Kalam Azad, appears to be good news for the health minister and his ministry, amid the Covid-19 testing scam. Prof Azad was at loggerheads with the health ministry over responsibility for signing the agreement with Regent Hospital, accused of issuing fake Covid-19 test certificates.
The DG health has audaciously tried to put the blame for the scam on the ministry by telling people in a statement that his department had signed an agreement with controversial Regent Hospital under directives of high-ups in the ministry.
He even named the then health secretary who verbally ordered the health department to sign the agreement in early July. Along with Prof Azad, the health minister himself was seen present in the deal signing ceremony.
But the minister and his ministry does not want to shoulder the responsibility of the agreement. The health minister has widely been criticised in social media for the scam, as the picture in which he was seen present at the deal signing ceremony went viral.
After a major scam, resignation of the concerned minister has been a long convention in many democracies. Some ministers have recently resigned for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic in developed democracies.
So the testing scam triggered a big question: who would resign?
Finally, the DG health has been made the scapegoat. His resignation means the health minister has succeeded in retaining his job. This is a good score for him and his ministry.
The two other points the health minister at his press briefing on Wednesday cited as his ministry's good score does not stand up. The low death rate in Bangladesh and South Asia still remains a mystery. A majority youth population in the region has been argued as one of the reasons for the low death rate. But nothing has been proven scientifically. So the health ministry cannot claim credit for this.
The other point the health minister has claimed as his ministry's success is vacant seats in the Covid-19 dedicated hospitals. His claim is that vacant seats prove the health ministry is successful in containing the virus.
But experts have already said something opposite. The testing scam has eroded public confidence in the healthcare system. People are unwilling to get admitted to the hospitals, resulting in the hospital bed vacancy. The experts have blamed the testing scam for eroding people's trust in Covid-19 testing, resulting in a decline in the number of daily tests, at a time when there is no sign of the virus curve being flattened.
As Prof Azad, who has been criticised for his department's poor performance in tackling the spread of the virus, finally falls from grace, he may face a volley of administrative and legal actions. This is the typical pattern of our governance system.
Prof Azad has also been blamed for signing the agreement with another controversial healthcare provider, JKW, allowing them to run Covid-19 tests. His colleague Additional DG Prof Dr Nasima Sultana on Wednesday told Police's detective branch (DB) team that Azad was involved from the beginning with the JKG scam.
Let's assume that Prof Azad is responsible for all wrongdoings in the health sector, including the latest Covid-19 testing scam by Regent Hospital and JKG.
And he is responsible for poor performance of the health sector in tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Rampant corruption in this sector, as reported by media in past years, has been possible thanks to nexus between the corrupts and the health department led by the DG.
So removal of the DG is supposed to solve all the chronic problems in this sector. But that will not happen, as the assumption is fundamentally flawed. The health DG is not the supreme leader responsible for all good and bad in the health sector.
The health directorate is under the control of the health ministry, led by the minister. The health department runs the field administration of the health sector under supervision of the ministry.
What did the minister and his ministry do when the health DG was committing all the wrongdoings such as signing agreements with the controversial Regent Hospital and JKG, allowing them to run covid-19 tests?
There are two possible answers. Either the minister and his ministry were not aware of the wrongdoings or they were aware of these, but remained silent to avoid their responsibility.
If they were not aware of the wrongdoings, it's their complete failure to deliver on their supervisory role. They have neglected their duties.
If they were aware of the wrongdoings, their failure to take action against the menace indicates their support of the malpractices.
In both cases, they cannot shrug off their responsibility in the testing scam and the anarchic situation in the health sector. In June, Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) held the ministry squarely responsible for the fast spreading of the Covid-19 infection among doctors and nurses. In a letter to the health minister it said supply of low quality masks, hastily and technically defective intensive care units and inadequate training of doctors were responsible for the health workers getting infected.
The testing scam has once again exposed a fragile governance in the health sector.
In a democracy, the parliament plays an important role in overseeing the functions of the ministries and the departments. If anything goes wrong, the parliament asks the government or any of its department to take corrective measures. In this case, our parliament and its standing committee on the health ministry could not perform its due role in overseeing the health care sector's performance.
The scam and crisis in the healthcare sector have exposed the sorry state of the state machinery in this sector. This is a part of the whole state machinery.
Yet, can we congratulate our health minister for his claim that his ministry has earned "good scores" in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic? In the time of the pandemic, good news is rare. As our health minister has come up with "good news", we may congratulate him. Let's not test his claim with the ground reality if we want to congratulate him.