By Dr Given Mutinta
One of the numerous ways President Michael Sata’s administration is squandering huge sums of tax payers’ money is through medical bills of government officials seeking medical treatment abroad.
Arguably, about $60, 000.00 is spent on a single government official flown abroad for medical treatment, excluding money for first class air tickets, five-star hotels and other facilitations.
Just count how many government officials last year, 2013, went abroad for medical treatment, and sorry to say some died in the process at the cost of tax payers’ money. May their souls rest in eternal peace!
It is unreasonable for government officials to seek treatment in South Africa or India or the United Kingdom (UK) while Zambian hospitals do not have medicine and medical professionals.
We need to ask ourselves why in South Africa or India or UK?
What is happening in this country is scandalous. We are behaving like a poorly paid person who buys pricy cooked food in the cafeteria owned by a neighbour while he or she has all what it takes to cook the same food?
We cannot continue spending the little money we have on South Africa or India or UK’s economy while ours is struggling.
For how long shall we continue blowing huge sums of tax payers’ money on medical bills abroad?
It is common sense that when Sata is reportedly ‘wooing’ investors in India or Addis Ababa or UK to Zambia they come to pay taxes, create jobs and build our economy. But why should the same Sata and his cronies take out taxes paid by investors to spend it on medical treatment abroad that will not help Zambians and the economy?
Imagine what would happen if tax payers’ money spent on medical bills abroad was spent back home; It would help to modernise our hospitals like those abroad, and Sata and his hangers-on will not run to them anymore.
We must abolish the practice of government officials seeking medical treatment abroad using tax payers’ money.
Let us transform our health care delivery system and give tax payers value for their money, and save many lives who cannot afford medical vacations abroad.
Or else, Sata and his brownnosers will continue to leave the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) and other health facilities without medicine and staff because they know that they can have medical treatment abroad.
As tax payers, why should we allow our money to be abused on medical bills in other countries?
Besides, the issue of medical trips abroad is more than just pursuing quality health care. It is used as an opportunity to thank ‘good’ bootlickers to the big shots in government.
If truth be investigated, how many government officials would want to use personal money to pay for medical treatment abroad when they leave office, if at all they would still have the money they are stealing? Besides, how many before coming into power sought medical treatment abroad? What has changed in the past three years they have been in power that they cannot be treated locally?
These medical vacations are also a scheme government officials are using to embezzle public funds.
Despite the negative noise about our local hospitals, they have potential to provide world class health care delivery if modernised. Some of the doctors in these same hospitals are not just first class brains but are even hunted by foreign hospitals abroad as consultants.
What is shocking is that the same people who are wasting tax payers’ money on medical treatment abroad give themselves monster salaries.
The usurpation of privilege at the taxpayer’s cost shows downright selfishness in policy thinking and is morally reprehensible and repugnant.
Sata’s government should be press-ganged to reduce medical tourism to the simplest minimum.
Government through the Ministry of Health should draft a policy to restrict government officials from travelling abroad for medical treatment.
The policy should compel every government official to get medical attention here in Zambia.
Only government officials with conditions that are obvious that they cannot be handled locally should be allowed to travel abroad.
The Ministry of Health should be the one to approve or disapprove any requests by government officials to use public funds for medical treatment overseas.
If government officials insist on having medical treatment abroad, let them use their personal money.
This policy will deter the blatant abuse of public funds on medical tourism and help to reverse brain drain to brain gain in the health sector.
The easy and incessant resort abroad for medical treatment by government officials is one of the reasons the sitting regime is neglecting the local health facilities.
This explains why Sata and his flatterers can remorselessly fire nurses because they know that they can go anyway abroad for treatment.
To ensure the effectiveness of this policy, we need to upgrade our tertiary health institutions to world class standards, and we can certainly do it if national priorities were to be set right.
This will fire up the process of assuring quality health care delivery, and this is what we should spend our verve and energy on.
If we can spend huge funds on silly by-elections, why should we fail to spend on upgrading our health care delivery system?
Let us use the money wasted through medical vacations to revamp our health care delivery system. This will encourage local people, and diasporans with better training to come home and team up towards setting up specialist health institutions and to deliver much needed services.
The Ministry of Health should step up efforts to foster public-private-partnership agreements for setting up tertiary health institutions.
What are the kingpins at the Minister of Health, Dr. Joseph Kasonde and Dr. Chitalu Chilufya doing to promote local capacity, strengthen the health sector, improve fiscal policy on medical equipment and monitor medical tourism?
We also need to seriously look into creating a health insurance scheme for the formal sector employees.
It is high time we had a health insurance scheme to ensure that public workers and many others unable to receive medical treatment abroad can have access to good health services, and make it productive.
Banning government officials from receiving medical treatment abroad using public funds can put right all leaders who are indifferent to the public’s health needs and force government to spend money on upgrading the local health care delivery system.