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May 29, 2017

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DOH head quits over milk scare

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A high school classmate of President Ma Ying-jeou, who quit as superintendent of the prestigious Taiwan University Hospital four months ago, was axed as his first scapegoat to appease the irate public yesterday as the unprecedented food scare continued unabated.

Dr. Lin Fang-yue told a morning press conference he had tendered his resignation as minister of the Department of Health (DOH) to take responsibility for causing the people to fear for food safety, triggered by the melamine tainted products imported from China.

Melamine is a highly toxic chemical used in plastics. It was used as part of a formula for milk particularly for babies in China. The tainted milk has killed at least four children and sickened tens of thousands of others in China.

The toxic chemical was also found in the non-dairy creamer in instant coffee, milk tea, puddings, chicken-and-corn soup and other foods and drinks sold on Taiwan. China exported the creamer to Taiwan.

"I am deeply sorry that different readings of the testing (of melamine) caused misunderstandings and uneasiness among the people and concerns in society," Lin told reporters.

He said he is solely responsible for the failure to cope with the scare in time.

Apologizing for getting the food scare started, Dr. Lin said: "I take full responsibility and I have tendered my resignation in writing this morning." Premier Liu Chao-hsuan accepted Lin's resignation.

One of the most respected surgeons, Dr. Lin didn't want to leave the Taiwan University Hospital. He was persuaded by Ma Ying-jeou to join Liu's Cabinet just for "old time's sake."

All Dr. Lin wanted was to help President Ma get the DOH house in order after eight years of mismanagement under Chen Shui-bian.

One of the most important tasks is to shrink the gaping black hole of national health insurance spending.

As a matter of fact, he was the most popular minister with the highest public support shortly after the Liu Cabinet was inaugurated on last May 20.

Bad luck befell the DOH chief before he could start to tackle the problem of the bankrupt NHI system. An enterovirus epidemic hit Taiwan.

He made a gaffe. "All you could do is to pray," he said. As a doctor, he knew probably it's only divine help that could end the worst enterovirus epidemic in ten years.

Almost as soon as the epidemic had been tamed, the melamine scandal broke out.

People blamed Dr. Lin for the flip-flop DOH damage control.

He dared not face up opposition Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers who challenged him to drink imported instant coffee and milk guaranteed safe by the DOH.

Nor did Premier Liu dare.

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