Gaffe of the mouth

They will put that on my gravestone. “Here lies Tinker, her heart was in the right place, but her foot was in her mouth and god knows where her brain went.”  

– Wen Spencer, American fiction writer

Once again, our country has become a laughing stock; no, not because of its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, its economy or its flip-flop policies. We are in the limelight again because of some politicians who have the tendency to put their foot in their mouth.

This time — yet again — it was Health Minister Datuk Seri Adham Baba for his Spanish Fly remarks for which he was flayed by netizens and leaders alike.

Dr Adham mistook the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918 for the Spanish Fly, a potent sex stimulant, when he was presenting a health talk to Universiti Putra Malaysia students early last week.

He made the misnomer not once, but three times, before he realised he had made a boo-boo.

It didn’t end there. He went on to provide false statistics on the Spanish Flu like how it had killed one million people worldwide, and comparing it to the “Covid-19 death toll of 2.8 million”.

Now, his facts were way off the health figures. For example, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the global Spanish Flu death toll at between 20 million and 50 million people.

Dr Adham’s global coronavirus death toll statistics was also off. It’s not 2.8 million deaths as he claimed. The virus has so far claimed more than four million lives worldwide.

So, where did our learned health minister obtain the skewed figures? Didn’t he do his homework before he gave the health talk?

He was not talking to a crowd of swateng (country bumpkins) or kampung fellas. He should have known he was going to face a difficult audience of tertiary students ever hungry for information.

Or did he think it would suffice to give an off-the-cuff talk? Or perhaps his speech writer or press secretary didn’t equip him with the vital statistics!

The Spanish Fly debacle sparked a trending hashtag on Twitter called #SpanishFly. Dr Adham was ridiculed on the internet. To add salt to the wound, many Malaysians, I believe, had the opportunity to watch a widely circulated video purportedly showing Korean newscasters giggling at the Spanish Fly issue.

Even Malaysian leaders and professionals took a swipe at the health minister’s awful boo-boo.

MP for Bakri, Yeo Bee Yin, wrote in her Twitter: “Secret: I didn’t know what was #SpanishFly until just now.”

Former Pakatan Harapan education minister Dr Maszlee Malik also took a swipe at Dr Adham with a GIF in Spanish that read, “Oh my God!”

Hey, Dr Maszlee is in no position to criticise his fellow politician.  Wasn’t it he who had the habit of putting his foot in his mouth? Two years ago, when he was in the Cabinet, he came under fire for linking the matriculation quota system to job vacancies specifying “Mandarin-speaking only”.

He made a sweeping statement how non-Malay students could well afford to go to private tertiary institutions because apparently “if you’re not a Malay, you are rich”.

And even former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad didn’t want to be left out when he burst out laughing and said it was strange for a trained doctor not to know the difference between the Spanish Flu and the Spanish Fly.

The New Straits Times quoted him: “I don’t have a need for Spanish Fly, nor do I have Spanish Flu. Neither flu nor fly. For a doctor not to know what Spanish Fly is, that is very, very strange.

“I learned about this when I was studying medicine. I have no need for that (Spanish Fly).”

Okay, to refresh readers’ memory; Dr Mahathir himself is guilty of making a faux pas when he was the deputy prime minister in 1979. The international media widely reported Dr Mahathir’s threat to shoot Vietnamese boat people if they landed on our shores.

Several world leaders condemned him.

But, then home minister Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie came to his rescue in the nick of time, clarifying that Dr Mahathir had merely “threatened to ‘shoo’ refugees away”.

Dr Mahathir’s gaffe of the mouth didn’t end there. Following the outcome of GE13 in 2013, he alleged that the polls outcome is proof that the Chinese in Malaysia are out to oust the political power of the Malays and to dominate Malaysian politics.

Coming back to Dr Adham, this was not the first time he has found himself ridiculed by citizens. In a previous incident he claimed that people could be protected from Covid-19 by drinking warm water. Imagine, this coming from a health minister.

Oh gosh! The country is never short of politicians who put their foot in their mouth now and then.

Do you still remember another politician, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, the Prasarana Malaysia chairman, who was tasked with handling the LRT collision between two trains involving 213 passengers in Kuala Lumpur in May this year?

Sixty-seven persons were injured.

Tajuddin described the incident as “normal … only the two cars are together … they kissed each other …”.

He also took offence to a question from a journalist and asked her where she was from, and when she replied she was from China, he retorted: “China. No wonder, lah.”

Tajuddin was eventually removed.

I end here by appealing to politicians and those holding public positions to think before they talk.