Above the law? Former Prez and PM receive millions from the state coffer

Nepal’s Public Health Service Act explicitly prohibits financial assistance for treatment of political leaders. In practice, successive governments have been providing millions for treatment of some powerful politicians without formulating guidelines.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: No one is above the law, in principle. In practice, some people are in Nepal. Some politicians have been receiving millions from the state coffers in the name of treatment though the law of the land prohibits such facilities. 

According to the latest information about financial assistance, additional disbursement, and budget transfer made public by the Ministry of Finance, Nepal’s former president Dr Ram Baran Yadav and former Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal received financial assistance in millions from the government. 

Former president Dr Ram Baran Yadav was provided Rs 2.5 million as per the cabinet decision on 20 October 2022. Similarly, Rs 2 million was provided to former Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal following the cabinet decision on 16 September and 23 September 2022. 

Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba was the Prime Minister when the decisions of financial assistance were taken. 

Ram Baran Yadav and Jhala Nath Khanal are the only ‘VIPs’ to receive money from the state coffers. Nor is this the first time Nepal’s political elite, known as VIPs, received millions as financial assistance for their treatment. Governments have doled out millions of rupees to several other political leaders for treatment in the past as well. The trend continues despite Nepal’s law explicitly prohibiting such assistance from the state coffer. 

Article 30 of Nepal’s Public Health Service Act (2018) has a provision of not providing expenses for foreign treatment. “Notwithstanding anything contained in the prevailing law, if any person is to be treated in a foreign country, the expenses to be spent on this shall not be made available by the Government of Nepal,” says the law.

The law, however, has not helped stop the misuse of public money in the name of treatment of the VIPs. 

“The decision of providing millions to VIPs in the name of treatment is opaque and irrelevant,” an official of the Ministry of Health and Population told Nepal Live Today. “Generally, former presidents or prime ministers are treated without fee in the public or government hospitals.”

The governments have been setting wrong precedents by not following any procedure or guideline to provide millions to VIPs in the name of treatment, he said. “Misuse of taxpayer’s money for the treatment of VIPs has created an environment of frustration among the general public.”

He further stated that Nepal’s Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital and Bir Hospital can provide high quality treatment to VIPs. But VIPs do not choose such institutions for treatment as they cannot receive millions as financial assistance from the government. 

Earlier, the Nepal government had introduced a separate working procedure in 2016 following the public outcry against the trend. Clause 12 of the procedure has provision regarding the condition and ceiling of financial assistance for treatment. “The Nepal government can provide financial assistance for treatment only if the concerned person declares that he/she cannot afford the treatment cost,” says this procedure.

The procedure has also clearly mentioned the ceiling of such assistance–up to Rs 1.5 million to former president, vice president, prime minister and chief justice, up to Rs 1 million to deputy house speaker, deputy PM, ministers, state ministers and others, and Rs 0.7 million to others. 

The procedure has categorically prohibited treatment abroad in case the services are available in the country. 

The working procedure was introduced two years before the new Act was endorsed. It means the procedure does not capture the essence of the new Act. 

“Politicians are reluctant to introduce new working procedures as the new Act strictly prohibits financial assistance to them,” Ministry of Health and Population officials said.

 The practice of providing a large sum of money to the powerful politicians in the name of treatment has not set a precedent that they are more equal than ordinary citizens but also become a source of public discontent against the politicians. Top politicians of the country, however, have not taken the issue seriously.