'Health minister does not attend office'

Health minister Zahid Maleque during the press breifing on 15 April 2020.

Health and family welfare minister Zahid Maleque does not attend his ministerial office at the Bangladesh Secretariat regularly, officials have said.

The officials could not tell instantly when he attended the office last.

While visiting the ministry on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, this correspondent did not find any activities although the country is hit hard by coronavirus pandemic.

A few officials and lift-men were seen. However, two secretaries were absent due to 'unavoidable circumstances'.

It is learnt that the minister’s personal secretary Kamrul Hasan has gone to Barishal to see his ailing father. Public relations officer Maidul Islam said he is sick and taking rest at home.

The health minister has been irregular since the Eid-ul-Fitr, which was on 25 May. Earlier, the question was raised over the inaction of the health minister. There is a rumour that the minister keeps silent to avoid controversy and failure.

While contacted repeatedly, a person close to the minister said, “Sir is busy. He cannot talk right now.”

The minister did not attend office on Wednesday. When contacted over phone, office assistant Tofazzal Hossain said, “The minister does not come. We send the record files. He attends meetings over zoom.”

The inaction of the minister raised questions amid the coronavirus pandemic while front-line physicians and health workers are dying from COVID-19 everyday.

Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) secretary general Ehteshamul Hoque Chowdhury said the minister should have acted like a commander in fighting the coronavirus.

Physicians said many problems could be solved through discussion with officials and physicians if the minister attended office at least three days in a week.

On condition of anonymity, a regional adviser of WHO said the health minister cannot avoid the failure to tackle the coronavirus. The ministry failed to realize the magnitude of the crisis, he added.

The issue to remove the minister is discussed inside and outside of the government.

According to the ruling party leaders, the minister is not removed considering that it may be embarrassing for the government during the coronavirus crisis.

A member of the standing committee on the health and family affairs, Ekramul Karim Chowdhury in a video message said, “There is no plan of action in the ministry. Who is running the ministry?”

Members of parliament from the opposition Jatiya Party and BNP also bitterly criticised the activities of the ministry.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder said the health ministry should work round the clock under the current situation.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.