Government Freebies To Leaders

Narayan Upadhyay

 

The government’s recent decision to provide Rs. 5 million to the former deputy prime minister and the Nepali Congress leader Sujata Koirala has drawn wider flak. The level of resentment among the public can be measured in the social media as well other media where public have expressed their dissatisfaction over the decision to dole out the money.

Reports suggest that the government provided the money to the former deputy prime minister for her breast cancer treatment at a Singapore based hospital. Initially, after the disease was detected in Singapore, Koirala flew back to Nepal and requested with the government to provide her Rs. 10 million, “required” for the treatment of the disease. However, the Council of Ministers decided to dole out only Rs. 5 million to ailing Koirala. The decision, nevertheless, has earned flak for the government.

The outcry over the decision was mainly pivoted on the fact that leader Koirala herself can well afford the medical expenditure incurred by the treatment of the disease, which is, reportedly, at the first stage. Hence, the government should not have doled out the money, which is quite an amount from the Nepali perspective. The supporters of Koirala are of the opinion that the government-provided amount is not of a considerable sum if one takes into account the charges levied by a modern, well equipped hospital for the treatment of disease like cancer.

The decision to hand out freebie to Koirala has also put young Health Minister Gagan Thapa under tremendous pressure. Amidst “ ailing” Koirala’s request to provide her assistance for the treatment, Minister Thapa had announced that the government would prepare a guideline as per which it would provide a maximum of Rs 1.5 million based on the nature of the disease of ailing persons. The proposed guideline is now at the Prime Minister’s office. However, the guideline could not take effect in the wake of Koirala’s request to his party high command and the government for the assistance.

After the dole out was made to Koirala, many criticised Minister Thapa and asked for the Health Minister’s resignation. Minister Thapa, while defending his position on the controversy, even vowed to fight the ill practices existing in the health sector.

The medical allowance to Koirala, which ran into controversy, is not first government freebie for an ailing leader of repute. Few months ago, the government had provided Rs. 6 million to the former President Ram Baran Yadav for his prostate cancer treatment in the USA. Former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, a recipient of kidney transplant, often visits foreign hospitals on government expenses. Ditto is true about former Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal, who had received government money while he went to America to get the treatment for his prostrate problems. Former PMs like Girija Prasad Koirala, Sushil Koirala, former minister Govind Raj Joshi, and politicians of all hue and stripes have received good amount of the government assistance whenever they sought treatment for their ailments within or outside of the nation.

It makes us clear that Koirala is not the first recipient of the government freebie to get her disease treated at the foreign hospital. She will not be the last either.

There is a reason for a leader getting good amount of government assistance for treating their diseases. The tendency to seek treatment at famous foreign hospitals is one of the reasons that drive a leader to make her/his request for the government dole out. And the government, which has a habit of listening to the request of a political leader often appears to be supporting the idea of the leaders getting advanced treatment at foreign hospitals. Another reason, every leader knows that she/he would fall ill one day and would require good treatment and they too need government assistance in case they are afflicted with serious diseases. If they do not listen to the urges of an ailing leader who is not in power now, a day would come when they would not be in power but would need the assistance for their own ailments. So, providing dole-outs to an ailing leader appears to be an act of mutual back scratching in present day Nepali politics.

If the providing of freebies to the leaders is regarded a bad practice that would make appreciable dent in the government coffer, then the practice of doling out government funds must cease to happen.

 The freebies to the leaders are an eyesore for the public at large. In a nation like ours where a large number of people live in poverty and die pauper, people do not get assistance from the government as the leaders of all kinds have been getting. The government’s announcement of providing free health services and free medicines do not make any effect as many people have been suffering in want of smooth medical services and free medicines.

Many commoners suffering with dreaded diseases related to kidneys, hearts, and cancers die without getting enough government assistance. At occasions, the government provided assistance is not enough and it fails to treat the disease and the patients face untimely death. Several requests of the families and patients to increase the assistance falls on the deaf ears of the government. Under such unsavoury backdrop, any decision of the government to provide considerable funds for the ailing leaders does not go down well with the common citizens. Hence the wider outcry from the public which can be witnessed both in public places and in media of all kinds, including social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

With the sudden spurt in the government dole-outs to the leaders in recent times, some like Minister Thapa are looking for the measures to stop the practice and bring the tendency of releasing government funds as freebies under a bind. The Health Ministry’s guideline to provide a maximum of Rs 1.5 million based on the nature of the disease appear to be good measure to check the practice of the providing whopping sum to the ailing leaders. The guideline would certainly bind the government and also make the ailing leaders aware that he/she can not get more than the sum permitted by the guidelines.

Most importantly, it is the leaders, who enjoy the higher positions in the government every now and then should themselves show a sense of responsibility and accountability towards the people and the nation. A large section of the society believes not all leaders should be seeking large funds as largesse from the government coffer which is filled only with the tax payers’ money. The leaders who can afford the treatment should not ask for the public money. The government should come up with a strong guideline like the ones introduced by the Health Ministry to check the flow of the government funds in the form of expenses to the ailing leaders. Such measures would indeed stop the government and leaders becoming the target of the common public who often hold the leaders in utter contempt because of their demands of public funds for their individual medical treatment.

 

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