Dec 07, 2015 News
– Says APNU+AFC ministers may not utilize budgeted medical aid
By Abena Rockcliffe
The People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) government was so “callous” about the welfare of ordinary Guyanese that it allowed ailing citizens, who required government funding for medical procedures, to die, while its Ministers were looking after “cosmetics” and other unnecessary procedures.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon noted this during a recent interview with Kaieteur News.
Every year, a lump sum is voted in the National Budget under the Ministry of Public Health for medical assistance for the poor and vulnerable.
Last year PPP/C Government Ministers benefitted the lion’s share of $144M sum that was set aside for that purpose. It was later revealed however that the money was used mostly for unnecessary cosmetic procedures.
Harmon told Kaieteur News that the fund is not for “cosmetic things, they are for real people who have serious problems.”
Harmon indicated however that the PPP apparently had no regard for those people. He said, “The travesty about what happened in that time is that when we came into office, there was a pile of files. Those files were filled with applications from people who had terminal illnesses that had to be dealt with. But they were ignored; there was definitely a level of callousness.”
Harmon said that since the APNU+ AFC administration came into office “We started to whittle down that.”
“We had to do an evaluation of where these people were and some actually died waiting to access this fund,” said the Minister.
Harmon said that those over at the Ministry of Public Health are trying hard to make sure that assistance is now granted in a speedy manner while maintaining the application process.
“Most of these people are those with extremely serious illnesses and are in need of treatment that is not easily available in the public system,” said Harmon.
Further, Harmon said that Ministers of the new government may not be taking a single cent of tax dollar to offset personal medical bills.
He said, “As far as we in this government are concerned, we are looking at insurance, private insurance that the Ministers can actually pay for so that if something happens, there is insurance available to take care of their illness. We are looking at health insurance.”
Harmon also indicated that the government will not be putting a cap on the health benefits available per person as was recommended by the Auditor General.
The PPP/C Government last year expended $144M in medical aid to 505 persons, with seven government officials receiving more than a third—over $45M. The remaining amount was used to assist over 495 persons.
It works out to an average of $198,000 being spent on each of the 498 private individuals assisted by Government last year, while seven of its officials utilized an average of $6.4M each.
Despite the glaring disparity between the levels of assistance provided to private individuals as against government officials, the Auditor General reported that relevant approvals for expenditure were presented for audit examination. The Audit Office has since recommended that the Ministry formulate a policy with respect to the amount of medical help that should be granted to individual patients.
Among those ex-government officials who benefitted from government’s medical assistance set aside for the poor and vulnerable was former Amerindian Affairs Minister, Pauline Sukhai.
Shortly before the May 11 General and Regional Elections, it was disclosed that Sukhai had $2.1M worth of work done to her teeth, an expense which was funded by the state using tax payers’ dollars. She had defended the expenditure as an entitlement.
Nine former Ministers had benefitted from the fund.
The then Minister of Human Services Jennifer Webster used up $1.3M while the then Prime Minister Sam Hinds benefited from $28,240 and his wife Yvonne $788,880.
It was found too that the former Attorney General Anil Nandlall was also a beneficiary of the Government’s medical assistance scheme. It was reported that he racked up some $4.9M in medical expenses in September, 2012 in the United States.
Nandlall lists “medical support” as the diagnosis. He did claim to have repaid the money he received.
The former Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture Ali Baksh also received medical assistance for a coronary artery bypass at a cost of $12.2M. This is in addition to $249,600 for his airfare.
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