Overseas treatmentThe decision to stop paying for medical treatment of political leaders welcome
Every year, millions of rupees in taxpayer money are handed out to treat ailing politicians for the diseases they’ve accumulated over years of fighting on behalf of democracy and the nation. Bypassing the very health facilities they were elected to build and maintain, these leaders take off for the near shores of India, Thailand and Singapore, and even the far shores of the US. The practice has invited much scorn from the public, who see politicians overlooking domestic healthcare since they themselves have access to almost vast troves of public funds for their own treatment abroad.
Fortunately, this practice is finally going to come to an end, as the Parliament, on Friday, endorsed a law to that end. The draft public hill was amended to include a bar on state funding by Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa and Nepal Communist Party leader Khaga Raj Adhikari. The bill, which was passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament, is now awaiting authentication by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. MP Thapa had attempted to implement a similar directive during his tenure as Health Minister in 2016, but had failed to do so owing to political opposition.
The government doled out more than Rs 71 million to nearly a dozen politicians for their medical expenses over the last decade or so, according to a 2016 report. Former prime minister Sushil Koirala has received the highest amount to date—Rs 19.18 million, followed by current PM KP Sharma Oli, who received Rs 12.63 million. Bafflingly, Aditya Dahal, a ‘child prodigy’ known colloquially as the Google Boy, also received Rs Rs10.91 million for his medical expenses. Former president Ram Baran Yadav also received Rs 6 million rupees for his cancer treatment in the United States. The public was especially outraged after the government decided to provide Rs 5 million to Nepali Congress leader Sujata Koirala for her breast cancer treatment in Singapore; she was not a sitting minister or public official at the time.
Public outrage stems partially from the understanding that the politicians who receive such assistance can already afford to pay for their treatment on their own. But more gallingly, the opportunity to take such sojourns provides little incentive for government officials and politicians to improve the country’s hospitals and medical services. Nepal’s public hospitals are overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed. Except for a select few hospitals in the Capital, the state of public healthcare services across the nation is dismal at best. Health posts in rural areas lack personnel and basic infrastructure, forcing service seekers to migrate in droves to the capital for medical treatment. Instead of investing in and bolstering medical services across the country, politicians are jetting off to foreign countries at any sign of illness, and that too on the taxpayer’s rupee.
The passing of this Public Health Bill will save millions of rupees that can instead be pumped into public healthcare. There is also room for optimism that leaders will finally get around to improving medical services in
the country. Affordable health care is a basic right that should not be the sole province of those who can afford it.