Nepal, a poor country struggling with numerous challenges, including poverty, inadequate healthcare facilities, and lack of access to quality medical treatment for its citizens, has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. News reports of high-profile politicians receiving expensive medical treatment abroad, funded by the state coffers, keep appearing in the Nepali media. However, the entire process often shows a lack of transparency and accountability. The latest example is President Ram Chandra Paudel, who was on Wednesday flown to New Delhi in an air ambulance for “advanced treatment of chest and abdominal problems” at a premier government hospital there. This comes after he had already spent five days in a hospital in Kathmandu for the same issue. While it's not uncommon for Nepali politicians to seek medical treatment abroad, the lack of transparency surrounding the process is concerning.
In the case of President Paudel, it's reported that the Nepali state coffers will bear the expenses, which are expected to be in millions of rupees. While it's acknowledged that the country's head of state should receive necessary medical treatment, even abroad if needed, the lack of transparency around politicians' medical treatment abroad and the practice of using state funds for such expenses is questionable. That should be why, back in Kathmandu, many people said this illness of President Paudel is a chronic one and that he had been undergoing treatment for it within the country for a long time and that the need for ‘a thorough check-up, treatment by expert doctors at a better facility’ arose only after he became the country’s head of state. The country’s presidency definitely comes with premium perks and benefits! Or this could simply be the beginning of the country paying the price for electing an ailing septuagenarian to the post of head of state.
President Paudel's case is not an isolated one. Only last year, the government doled out Rs 9 million for the treatment of Jhalanath Khanal, a senior leader of CPN (Unified Socialist) and former prime minister, breaching existing provisions that prohibit providing expenses for treatment abroad. Furthermore, former PM KP Sharma Oli is another ‘lucky’ politician for whose treatment millions have been spent from the state coffers as well as undisclosed sources. Only a few years ago, Oli underwent a medical check-up in Singapore, known as the most expensive city in the world, accompanied by his wife, personal doctor, chief advisor, personal secretary, security personnel, and a protocol officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The expenses for his entire entourage, including the cost of a cabin at the hospital, were exorbitant. But the people were never told who had borne the expenses - whether it was the taxpayers' money or external sources.
Another notable example of the lack of transparency in sponsoring high-profile politicians’ abroad trips is the current prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself. A few years ago, Dahal, accompanied by his family, had a weeklong ‘refreshment trip’ to Dubai. While there, Dahal and his family stayed at the luxury Atlantis hotel in Dubai, where even basic rooms cost over Rs 50,000 per night. It was never disclosed who had sponsored the trip and how the favor was returned later. Additionally, Dahal's visit to the United States a few years ago raised questions about who had paid for the trip and his wife's treatment there.
The lack of transparency in the entire process of high-profile politicians' medical treatment abroad or foreign junkets is not only concerning but also has serious implications for Nepal as a country. First and foremost, it raises questions about the proper utilization of state funds. When millions of rupees are doled out from the state coffers for medical treatment of high-profile politicians, it diverts precious resources that could have been used to improve the country's healthcare infrastructure, provide better medical facilities to ordinary citizens, and address other pressing issues such as poverty, education, and basic amenities.
Also, it is worth questioning the sources of funding for these treatments. In some cases, rich businessmen or foreign powers may be sponsoring the medical expenses of politicians. This gives rise to concerns about potential conflicts of interest and compromises on national sovereignty. If treatment costs of high-profile politicians are being borne by businessmen or foreign powers, what could be the consequences for the country?
It certainly raises questions about the influence and control that these businessmen or foreign powers may exert over these politicians. Won't these politicians feel indebted to their sponsors and compromise the interests of the country in favor of their benefactors? Also, this could lead to compromised decision-making, compromised national policies, and erosion of public trust in the current political system.
It also highlights the stark disparity between the healthcare facilities available to the high-profile politicians and the ordinary citizens of Nepal. While politicians are flown abroad for treatment in premier hospitals or expensive foreign facilities, the majority of the population in Nepal struggles to access basic healthcare services due to inadequate infrastructure, lack of resources, and poverty. This raises questions of social justice and equity, where the privileged few in power receive preferential treatment at the expense of the general public.
Clearly, we, as a nation, continue to set examples of unfair treatment!