The gadfly that will not go awayDr Govinda KC reminds me of Socrates—the relentless critique of maleficence in the Athenian State. Socrates was, in words attributed to him in Plato’s Apology, a “gadfly” attached to the Athenian state. Unable to silence him, the Athenian authority charged him for corrupting the mind of the young and sentenced him to death by poisoning.
Dr Govinda KC reminds me of Socrates—the relentless critique of maleficence in the Athenian State.
Socrates was, in words attributed to him in Plato’s Apology, a “gadfly” attached to the Athenian state.
Unable to silence him, the Athenian authority charged him for corrupting the mind of the young and sentenced him to death by poisoning.
Certainly, KC is not Socrates. But he is a gadfly nevertheless—a gadfly stuck to Nepal’s multiparty juggernaut of corruption.
His mission is to free medical education from the stranglehold of this juggernaut, improve its standard through an overarching regulatory framework, and bring healthcare within the reach of the marginalised and the poor.
KC’s activism started five years ago when he realised his favourite Institute of Medicine (IOM) had fallen from being one of the best in South Asia to a mediocre humdrum; when he realised the admission to private medical colleges was not based on competitive qualifying examinations, but on financial transactions between the applicant and the college; when he realised the standards of private medical colleges were so poor that their graduates would present a real risk to public health; and when he realised new hospitals were being built in Kathmandu for private profit and not in rural areas where hospitals were most needed.
KC understood that, as in all other sectors of Nepal’s public life, political corruption lay at the root of the maleficence and all three major political parties were part of it.
KC decided to fight.
A frail, lone pacifist with no money or political authority, a hunger strike with a set of demands for reform was his weapon of choice; his moral authority the source of his strength.
He called for reform in the registration system of private medical colleges and the establishment of hospitals in rural Nepal.
The government, succumbing to public pressure in support of KC, reluctantly conceded to his demands. KC ended his fast, his objectives achieved.
The government formed an independent task force with Kedar Bhakta Mathema, a highly respected Nepali intellectual, as its convenor.
The task force (popularly called the “Mathema Commission”) was asked to review the operations of private medical colleges and recommend actions to remedy them. (Disclosure: Mathema is a relative of the writer).
As it turned out, the political leaders, both inside and outside of the government, never intended to enforce the recommendations of the task force.
KC began a second fast, demanding enforcement of the Mathema Commission’s recommendations and the withdrawal of government decisions contrary to its previous agreement with him.
When the government resisted, public protest erupted and hospitals closed when doctors joined the protestors.
The fast ended with another agreement, which was again reneged on later by the government. This led to KC’s third fast and a continuing pattern of fasting, agreement, non-enforcement and fasting.
Following KC’s 11th fast, the government formed an independent commission to draft a bill to regulate the standards of medical education.
The bill was drafted and presented to the Parliamentary Committee several months ago. At this time it languishes in committee because Rajendra Pandey, a UML lawmaker, and his ilk, objected to provisions in the bill that would restrict him from operating a medical college in which he and his party bosses are the major shareholders.
The Chair of the committee, also a UML lawmaker, refused to send the bill to the parliament under the pretext that it lacked unanimous support in the committee.
Pandey and his nexus have not come up with any logical argument to support their opposition to the original bill. Dr Abhi Subedi, in a recent column in this newspaper, asked the bill’s opponents how ordinary people will lose out and the standard of medical colleges would be compromised by the parliament accepting KC’s demands.
Just a façade
In an interview with a local newspaper, Mathema asked if the government had no intention to reform, why the charade?
There was no answer; never has been.
KC went on his 13th fast demanding that the bill drafted by the independent commission be introduced in parliament.
A few days after the beginning of this fast, Parliament’s term ended. Protest demonstrations erupted in Kathmandu.
Until the end of the second week of October, it looked like the good doctor was destined to meet the fate of the old Athenian gadfly.
But, things suddenly changed a few days ago. Nepali Congress, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, conceded to KC’s demands and promised to promulgate an ordinance replicating the bill. KC ended his fast.
Wait and see
I have been critical of Deuba’s leadership for a long time, but I shall be remiss if I do not credit him for his courage for defying, in this case, the corruption juggernaut.
It remains to be seen whether Deuba’s promise will follow the familiar pattern of non-enforcement or whether the ordinance will actually be promulgated and enforced.
Assuming that the ordinance will be promulgated, the next big task is to have the ordinance ratified by Parliament.
There is real concern whether it will be ratified if the communist alliance wins majority seats in the Parliament that is to be formed after the coming federal election.
It is important that the civil society does not drop its guard until the ordinance is ratified.
- Koirala is a geotechnical engineer resident in Vancouver, Canada