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Old 09-27-2010, 12:34 PM
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Default Sniffing Out The Fakes

extracted from The Star

How to tell if a vet is genuine.

YOUR dog, cat, rabbit or whatever pet you have gets sick and needs treatment. You send it to the local vet, taking for granted that the person who is treating your precious “baby” is a competent, qualified veterinary surgeon.

But what if the vet turns out to be bogus? How would you know? Are there provisions to deal with bogus vets in the veterinary profession in Malaysia? StarTwo delves into these questions and more.

The Veterinary Association Malaysia (VAM) is the biggest professional association for vets in the country. It covers vets in the government and private sectors. It has other affiliates, including the Malaysian Small Animal Veterinary Association (MSAVA).

Both groups say there are bogus vets in the country operating at will. They are frustrated over the problem and upset that nothing has been done about it.

“We have brought this issue up to the Malaysian Veterinary Council (MVC) many times,” said MSAVA president Dr Clement Anthony.

MVC is the body that is legislated to regulate the veterinary profession. It is given powers under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1974. In the Act, it is stipulated that the director-general of the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) is the president of the MVC.

In an interview with DVS director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Jamalud*din, he was asked what the department has done to resolve the issue. He confirmed that they had received reports of non-registered vets on non-registered premises.

“It is not under us. We cannot investigate un-registered vets as they do not come under the purview of the Act. The Act only regulates registered vets. It comes under the Penal Code so it is for the police to take action,” explained Dr Abdul Aziz.

KL Bar Committee’s Young Lawyers Committee chairman Lai Chee Hoe and KL Bar Committee Animal Rights sub-committee co-chairman Vince Chong Khin Young both pointed out that the DG was “sadly mistaken”.

Section 33 of the Act clearly states that under subsection (1) (a) to (g), anyone trying to portray themselves as a qualified or registered vet is guilty of an offence against the Act.

Under Section 34 subsection (1), (2) and (3), any registered vet who allows or enables an un-registered vet to practise veterinary medicine or practises in the premises of an un-registered vet is also guilty of an offence.

Section 36 subsection (1) allows for the prosecution for an offence against the Act to be instituted by the president of the MVC or any DVS state directors or any officers appointed by them. Section 36 subsection (2) gives the police powers to arrest those who have committed an offence under Section 33.

“The MVC can prosecute but it does not provide them with powers to arrest. So what they can do is, get a council member to make a police report. Let the police do the arrest. If they don’t act on it, you can still draw up the charge sheet and prosecute in court after getting the certificate from the Attorney-General’s chambers. So long as they have powers to prosecute, they can still do so without even arresting the bogus vet,” Lai explained.

When this was pointed out to Dr Abdul Aziz, he said he was not aware of it.

It was also pointed out to him that the copy of the Act that was displayed on the department’s website, had Section 33 removed and the ensuing space filled in by moving up Section 34.

“Didn’t realise this. This surprises me. Maybe someone didn’t want to put it there,” said Dr Abdul Aziz with a laugh.

Several vets interviewed for this story said they had been told by the MVC that the council had no power to act against bogus vets. Perhaps this impression was compounded by the fact that VAM’s website had the exact copy of the Act – with the missing section.

Many of the main office bearers of VAM are senior officers of the DVS. Datuk Dr Mohamad Azmie Zakaria, a past-president of the VAM and a senior DVS director, said he was not aware of this.

Real vs fake

Now members of the public must be wondering how to tell the genuine ones from the frauds.

Look out for the Registration Certificate and Annual Practising Certificate (APC) when you next visit a vet. These certificates have to be displayed in a prominent place for all their clients to see.

Under the provisions of the Act, all qualified vets have to be registered with the MVC. They also need to possess the APC which has to be renewed annually. So if a “vet” cannot show you one or both of these certificates, he or she could possibly be a quack!

There is a way of checking, especially if you know the name of the vet. The Act says that the Register of vets should be accessible to the public. But in reality, it has not been uploaded to the DVS website.

“Yes, we have not put it up on the website. If the public wants to check, they can come to our office in Putrajaya. If you’re outside the Klang Valley, then you can communicate with the Registrar (the one who compiles the Register, who is at present an officer of the DVS but whose name and number are not given in the department’s website),” said Dr Abdul Aziz.

Most of the pet owners spoken to say they have no idea how to make a formal complaint or a request to the DVS or the MVC. They complain that there is no proper procedure given on the DVS website. In addition, there is no contact detail for, or a link to, the MVC.

Since the DG has said that one could request for the Register, I put in a request with both the DVS and the MVC. Till press time, I had not received any reply.

Many of the contact details for the various officers at the headquarters and the various state officers are only available on the Bahasa Malaysia version of the website. If one is unfamiliar with the language, the English version is of no help.

Dr Abdul Aziz conceded that the present set-up of the website needed improvement.

He explained that there were various ways to lodge a complaint or put in a query. Both VAM and MSAVA said that they would also accept complaints or bring up issues on behalf of the public and forward them to the MVC.

Action taken?

Have there been complaints from the public or the vets themselves with regard to these charlatans? Dr Abdul Aziz said there were more from the public.

“Reports of non-registered vets or non-registered premises, namely pet shops having a vet operating there, come to us. We appoint a council member or a senior vet to investigate. There is only a small number of such complaints; I cannot recollect any big case,” said Dr Abdul Aziz.

However, StarWeekend pet columnist Ellen Whyte said her complaint about a fake vet to the Malacca DVS office saw no action being taken.

Dr Clement said many vets assumed pet stores operated with the permission of the local authorities of a particular locality as they came under the purview of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976.

When asked if that was the constraint the DVS faced if they needed to act against those stores, Dr Abdul Aziz said: “If it is reported and we can prove that these stores employ vets or unregistered vets, we can take action.”

So the DVS can take action against bogus vets.

Dr Abdul Aziz said they had adequate funding so money was not an issue.

The DVS stated that the number of complaints (all types) in total was 182 last year and 321 in 2008. They also gave figures for raids conducted, investigations opened and prosecutions taken. But when pressed for details as to the number of complaints, raids and prosecutions that involved fake vets or registered vets, the department remained tight-lipped.

So the question is: when will the Department of Veterinary Services or the Malaysian Veterinary Council take action against these bogus vets? How many more animals have to die or suffer the consequences before action is taken?
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