By Ram Khatry, Sydney
10 September 2016
Gagan Thapa is not exactly a communist comrade but the firebrand health minister of Nepal wants to bring about a sweeping revolution any way. A revolution that would change the attitude of his political leaders towards the medical industry of their own nation. For now, they appear to have absolutely no trust in Nepalese hospitals. When it comes to their dear lives, the only people Nepal’s VIPs place their total trust in are doctors in some distant lands like the United States, Japan, Europe and even India.
How would he do that? He has an idea.
So, the pumped up minister wants to turn them around by making them seek medical treatment in Nepal itself and thereby save hundreds of millions of rupees. All Nepalese leaders, instead of going abroad, should be forced to go to Nepalese hospitals and the massive funds that are currently being spent on them for going abroad should be diverted to buying modern equipment in order to improve government hospitals such as Bir Hospital and Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu, Mr Thapa told a local newspaper.
There has been a lot of angst in the Nepalese public about the amount of cash the poor nation is having to spend on five-star medical treatment of its politicians in foreign countries. Tens of millions of rupees, that is, hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars, have been spent only in recent years while millions in remote communities suffer from from an almost non-existent health care system.
The new health minister, representing politically-supercharged youths of the mountain nation, has become the first cabinet member who dared say “No” to the automatic disbursement of funds from the national coffer. He did so last Thursday in a cabinet meeting, Annapurna Post claimed today. Former ministers and more recently, the first president of the South Asian republic, are known to “call” the prime minister’s office and and when they need funds to fly to developed countries for medical treatment. And believe it or not, they get it as easily as they make those telephone calls.
Mr Thapa questioned a proposal to provide medical support to former prime minister Tulsi Giri who is reportedly being treated in India, a local newspaper in Kathmandu said today. The Nepali Congress leader, who started politics as a student leader, stopped a proposal of his cabinet to take up the bills for Dr Giri who served three terms under King Birendra. He has been living in Bangalore for years.
During the meeting of his cabinet, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda apparently called on his ministers to approve the funds earmarked for Dr Giri to which the health minister strongly objected, the Annapurna Post report claimed. Mr Thapa urged to put an end to the indiscriminate distribution of the taxpayers’ money, it is understood.
“Mr Prime Minister, the treatment of main leaders like yourself, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, (Nepali) Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba, chairman of UML KP Oli and others must take place here in the country,” the young leader was quoted as saying by the Nepali-language daily.
Despite repeated attempts by Prime Minister Dahal, who urged to release the funds based on the fact that he was a VIP, the proposal to award financial support to Dr Giri was not approved.
The subject came to a head recently when the Nepalese government decided to provide millions of rupees to former president Ram Baran Yadav to travel to United States to seek treatment for his prostrate cancer. Doctors say his early stage cancer is pretty much treatable in his own country but he opted to go to the US along with three minders costing a daily allowance of US$ 750 per day whereas the GDP per capita of his country is merely US$ US$ 732.3.
During Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Mr Thapa and Information and Communications Minister Surendra Karki also expressed concern about the disturbing news of a Kathmandu youth who committed suicide last Monday because he did not have enough medical funds. As ex-ministers and other VIPs continue ring the prime minister’s office to seek tens of thousands of dollars in “medical support” for treatment abroad, 18 year Bijay Khada killed himself because he did not enough cash to treat his renal issues, suthasia.com.au‘s Kathmandu correspondent said citing local newspapers.
Now that Mr Thapa has started to push back proposals for VIP medical support that fall within his ministerial portfolio, ordinary people on the streets wonder if he would take similar stance in case of others more powerful, unlike the royalist former prime minister. Royalists are not the most powerful people in contemporary Nepal. Will he do so, for instance, in case of powerful leaders as well?
Similar is the tone of a Facebook status posted by Kathmandu-based senior journalist Balaram Baniya. He wrote, “Health Minister Thapa did a good job by stopping Tulsi Giri’s medical expenses from the state coffer. Now, he should also dare stop medical expenses of all leaders including Yadav (first president), Deuba (former prime minister) and Oli (immediate past prime minister).”