How would it look if one of our Ministers were to appear at the United Nations with one of his or her front tooth missing or chipped? That would be an embarrassment, would it not?
There would be cries for that Minister to do something about his or her appearance. There would be protests as to why the government would allow a Minister to appear in front of an audience with a missing front tooth.
There would be demands that the Minister have a tooth implanted or wear dentures. There would be suggestions as to where that Minister should go for cosmetic dental work.
There is nothing cosmetic about cosmetic dentistry. But don’t tell that to some of our senior and not so senior journalists who are ranting and raving about the fact that the government footed the bill for dental work from some of its ministers.
Cosmetic dental work is not make-up. True it is about appearance. But it is not about splashing on something one day and taking it off the next day. Most of the procedures involving cosmetic dentistry are done with permanence in mind.
If you have cavity, then you can opt to do a filling. That is not a simple procedure but it is classified as cosmetic surgery. A root canal may sound like a medical operation and it is. But when the medical procedure is completed, the canal has to be refilled and this involves cosmetic work. If you have a chipped tooth, then you may need a crown. This is pretty costly. But it is considered as cosmetic dentistry. So too is the more serious procedure of tooth implants. So too are dentures or “false teeth” as they are commonly known in Guyana.
So too are bridges and braces. All of these are pretty costly but are considered as cosmetic surgery.
When some journalists peddle the idea that the government spent millions on cosmetic dental work on ministers, it is not a case of the Ministers trying to look good by putting on make-up on their teeth. Serious dental procedures must have been involved— crowns, and implants and fillings.
These procedures are not luxuries that are being doled out to the Ministers of the government. They are benefits to which Ministers are entitled. It forms part of the package of benefits afforded to Ministers.
Which country in the world wants to have one of its Ministers parading at international conferences with a missing front teeth or visible rotten teeth? A Minister represents his or her country. He or she is the image of his country that is presented to the world and therefore that minister should be entitled if he or she has a cracked tooth to a proper crown; or if he or she has a missing tooth to have that tooth replaced with an implant.
The dental and medical benefits accorded to Ministers in Guyana are no different from the benefits that are accorded to senior executives of certain private firms in Guyana. Some firms even extend such benefits, including overseas treatment to their retired senior executives.
So why should a Minister that has served in one of the highest organs of his or her country not be entitled to certain benefits?
Is the Leader of the Opposition not also entitled to similar benefits and has the government not in the past paid for costly medical interventions for a former Leader of the Opposition? No one complained then. No one made a fuss.
But they are now, that ministers are utilizing the benefits due to them by virtue of their employment.
Obviously, certain procedures should not be entertained as part of the benefits due to a Minister. The State should not have to pay for “facelifts”, breast implants or certain kinds of plastic surgery. The State should not have to pay for unnecessary medical evacuations. But cosmetic dental work for Ministers and senior government and political functionaries, yes!
It is disingenuous for our journalists to be attempting to compare a benefit to assistance given. A benefit is an entitlement. Assistance given is not an entitlement. The two should not be compared.
A person who enjoys a benefit is entitled to that facility. This is different from someone who is seeking assistance. Medical assistance is given to persons who cannot afford to pay the full cost of a specific medical procedure. They may not have health insurance coverage.
They may not be covered by the National Insurance Scheme. They therefore seek financial assistance from the government. To compare what is given to these persons with what is provided as an entitlement to Ministers is disingenuous.
But then again we are in election season and some persons want to make political capital, even when it comes to the health of Ministers and senior government functionaries.
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