Lethal dose

Any government has discretionary power to provide financial assistance to its citizens who may sorely need funds when they are seriously ill, when they are hit by natural calamities, displaced for any reasons, or otherwise afflicted. A number of factors enter into the calculations before deciding on who deserves succour and to what extent. Apart from the need factor, the standing in society of the individuals concerned also constitutes an important consideration. This is so because the financial constraint does not allow the government to provide help to all who may really deserve it. Therefore, a poet of note who is suffering from cancer but whose financial condition is too weak to afford the cost of treatment himself is more likely to pass the test than some anonymous citizen. But in a country where tens of thousands of children die of diseases like diarrohea every year simply because they do not get even the low-cost medicine or Jeevan Jal in time, even persons who may be well known in society should not be deemed eligible for state favour if they are fairly well-off.

These two tests of eligibility should be applied before any decision to pinch a hole in the public purse. But successive governments have frequently come under public criticism for ill-advised decisions to aid those rich enough to withstand the affliction unaided, or even worse, to finance politicians, those close to power, high-ranking government officials, etc. who get the money just like that without some compelling reason. Most of the state aid meant to be given to the people in real need has gone to these two categories of people. A fair amount of aid to those combining a compelling reason and financial need usually does not induce public criticism. But this last but deserving group has received just a negligible portion of the millions that is annually doled out in the name of humanitarian aid to the undeserving.

Does a member of the royalty need several millions of public’s money for treatment in a foreign country? Ditto for other bigwigs. Currently, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is investigating cases of such abuse of public funds disbursed on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. The emphasis is rightly placed in the sense of concern displayed by PAC following deputy prime minister and health minister Amik Sherchan’s statement last week that the money thus given had gone into wrong hands. However, the problem, if the past is any guide, has always been that much hot air is vented but finally little corrective action is taken. An effort should be made to recover money from the undeserving beneficiaries, particularly from those ones whose intake exceeds reasonable limits. Besides, sufficient safeguards should be worked out so that in future neither those in power nor questionable recipients get away unpunished for devouring the taxpayers’ money.