Making money off miseryThe government must be wrong to believe that citizens can't hold it to account while in quarantine.
Since the first case of Covid-19 in January, Nepal’s handling of the pandemic—the biggest health emergency of this century—has been a farce. We squandered our preparation time and the government thought Nepalis, who have Lord Pashupatinath’s blessings, were invincible. Lack of qualified doctors, trained nurses and support staff severely undermined efforts to treat coronavirus-affected patients. The government’s stunning failure to conduct tests and supply the necessary equipment for those at the frontlines is on the verge of becoming a national outrage. This incompetence threatens Nepal’s health and the country's economy.
By putting the country under a lockdown, the government is hoping to slow down and then contain the spread of the virus—and pocket money too in the name of procuring test kits and other PPEs. With its lack of ethics and sheer greed to earn money when humanity is suffering collectively, the government has reached a new low.
The Ministry of Health signed an agreement with Nepal’s Omni Group on March 25 to purchase 75,000 rapid diagnostic kits from China worth $600,000. The authorities told the hospitals not to use rapid testing kits because they were not sure if they met the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the government’s own standards. The National Public Health Laboratory too has not recommended using such kits. Yet, the Health Ministry went ahead with the procurement, embezzling money in the process. And now, when the purchase has been done, the ministry has conveniently instructed that the imported Covid-19 test kits should not be used owing to doubts regarding their reliability. Clearly, this is a case of procurement and contracting malfeasance.
Times of uncertainty and fear create opportunities for the corrupt to get involved in corruption. It almost gives them a free run, for right now, with the virus having the potential to endanger every life, the entire attention is fixated on staying alive. Globally, there have been reports that the rapid kits are not reliable. Their test results are faulty, and they only detect antibodies. In fact, just last week, Spain—one of the countries having many fatalities—returned faulty test kits to China as its death toll passed the 4,000 mark. A number of European governments have rejected them too.
Then the question arises: Why did the government still go ahead knowing all this? And say, if the government was unaware of all these, then should it not consult health experts?
It’s now universal knowledge that testing is crucial to containing the spread of the disease for it allows those infected to be quarantined. The contract associated with this kind of procurement demands the highest level of transparency for this is corruption not during ordinary times, but when people are helpless and losing their lives owing to a pandemic. The government must be wrong to believe that citizens can't hold it to account while in quarantine.