No sector in Nepal is free from some political meddling. The health sector is no exception. The insidious effect of such meddling is apparent in the decline in quality of services at the main government healthcare providers. Bir Hospital and Institute of Medicine (IOM), the two leading government-run healthcare institutions in the country, have been perennial victims of such interference—when they have not suffered from outright government neglect. It is this culture of unwanted political interference and neglect that has prompted Dr Govinda KC, one of the most respected teachers and doctors at IOM, to declare fast unto death from May 14. His demands are straightforward: that merit-based appointments are made to vacant IOM posts and a government report implicating some IOM officials in irregularities is immediately implemented.
Dr KC does not aspire to any high office in IOM. So his announcement of fast on Saturday can only be interpreted as an effort of a concerned academic to clean up the muck in the institution he has been serving for over two decades. Dr KC’s uncheckered record as an academic and the humanitarian causes he has championed—which runs a whole gamut, from his donating all his earnings for the treatment of those injured in natural disasters in Nepal to his 2010 trip to Haiti at personal cost to treat those hurt in the massive earthquake that rocked the Caribbean nation—only broadens the moral ground for his fast-onto-death announcement. Dr KC has every right to feel slighted by the government attitude.
In March 2010, following a 17-day strike by IOM students accusing the Dean’s Office of irregularities in post-graduate entrance exams, a government probe committee claimed it had “sufficient ground to suspect the involvement of IOM officials in several irregularities”. More than two years later, not a single IOM official has been formally charged. There is more that riles Dr KC. The top posts at IOM have been lying vacant for the last six months, when the terms of its previous officials expired. But constant wrangling between the political parties on appointments has meant that the posts lie unfilled to this day.
There can be no two ways of looking at Dr KC’s protest. We completely agree with him that if government has sufficient grounds to suspect some officials, it must take action against them so that the cloud of suspicion that now hangs over even clean officials is lifted. The trend of post-1990 governments to institute probe committees (for everything from airline crashes to irregularities in public institutions) but not to implement the respective committees’ recommendations is unacceptable; such committees are costly on taxpayers, but even more seriously, they are a clear sign of government unaccountability towards its people.
The political parties have justified neglect of vital sectors on the pretext that most of their concentration in recent times has gone into the all-important issues of peace and constitution. We believe it is a lame excuse, a cheap cop out from their responsibility to ensure clean and effective governance at vital state institutions. The way we see it the problem is not so much shortage of time but lack of willpower on the part of the political class to clean up governance. Dr KC’s protest is a clarion call to put a final stop to this pernicious cycle of neglect and interference