Health should not be for wealth

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Binita Dahal

The putative putsch by the Nepali Congress this week to get the Maoists to abandon their alliance with the UML in the governing coalition has had far-reaching consequences.

It has brought fresh uncertainty about the new government, final fate of the Constitution, inclusion of dissatisfied Madhesi and Janajati elements into mainstream politics, endorsement of budget-related bills, long-delayed appointment of Supreme Court justices, ratification of ambassadorial appointees and, most urgently, meeting the demands of Govinda KC, the physician who has now been on a hunger strike for 13 days.

While the ruling and opposition parties are at loggerheads over whether to form a new government, the parties who are willing to do so are halting the process of the parliamentary hearing of the 11 justices nominated for Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will be a critical arena for writ petitions in the coming days since the rival parties are consulting legal experts about the constitutional crisis and the no-confidence motion in parliament. The Maoists and Nepali Congress do not want to start the hearing process of the 11 justices, since many of them are closer to the UML.

This delay also impacts on one of Govinda KC’s demands, which calls for the impeachment of Lokman Singh Karki, Chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Another contempt of court case against Karki is also sub judice in the Supreme Court, which has summoned him. If found guilty in the contempt case, Karki could even be suspended from his CIAA post.

Although assorted politicians, Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar and some members of Parliament’s Social Justice and Human Rights Committee visited the fasting doctor this week, the government has not bothered. Some of KC’s current demands persist from past hunger strikes, and include those that had been either ignored or only partially implemented.

On this eighth fast, some of KC’s demands are more serious and zero in directly on the source of interference and corruption in the medical education sector. KC has long known that Karki has a conflict of interest in medical education because of the involvement of his immediate family members in this lucrative sector. KC also knows full well that top politicians own or benefit monetarily from medical colleges, and they are beholden to Karki.

Hence, among his demands for health sector reform, KC is also asking for Karki’s impeachment. It is probably for this reason that parliament members and the government are not responding, because conceding to the impeachment process would invite Karki’s wrath. They also probably feel – rightly so – that cobbling together a two-thirds majority for impeachment is impossible in the current fractious climate.

Which is why the government finally formed a dialogue committee to mediate with KC on the eleventh day of his hunger strike. Headed by a bureaucrat, however, the committee has no power to address KC’s demands.

The popular young NC leader Gagan Thapa on Thursday filed a motion of urgent public importance to discuss KC’s demands in parliament. Nevertheless, his party has already decided to abstain from debating KC’s grievances. This is an indication of just how long a shadow Karki casts in the party.

Speaker Magar assured KC on Wednesday that she would take the initiative in parliament to address his demands. It is interesting that she had stopped by to meet Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and President Bidya Bhandari before seeing KC.

Govinda KC commands tremendous public respect and support for his selfless and lifelong devotion to healthcare for Nepal’s poor. The CIAA has used a pliant section of the media to publicise a counter-campaign by private hospital owners against KC’s demands, but the attempt to discredit him has come to naught.

As KC’s health deteriorates, a Health Bill that does not address any of his demands is awaiting ratification by parliament after the Cabinet passed it last week. Parliament needs to take a new look at the Bill and form a committee to investigate the abuse of authority by the CIAA Chief, in order to satisfy KC.

The new Constitution has a provision that one-fourth of the House of Representatives may table a motion to impeach the head of the CIAA for a serious violation of the Constitution, incompetence, misbehaviour or failure to discharge duties.

According to provision 101(3), a committee of 11 members can be formed in the House of Representatives to recommend charges of impeachment. For now, such a committee could easily be established.

KC’s past fasts have put pressure on stakeholders, but this time the government is wholly preoccupied with the formation of a new government. Public pressure on parliament is therefore important. We cannot afford to lose someone like Govinda KC, who has devoted his life to the health of the nation with no regard for his own.

Government officials and parliamentarians blame KC for getting the timing of his hunger strike wrong.

What is the right time to make healthcare affordable and accessible to all Nepalis, or to clean up the medical education sector?

 

This article was originally published in Nepali Times (http://nepalitimes.com/regular-columns/Legalese/Health-should-not-be-for-wealth,753)

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Supreme once more

The new Chief Justice is from a minority within a marginalised community, this is hugely symbolic

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Ram Kumar Prasad Sah, who was sworn in as the Chief Justice last week by the President, takes office at a time when Nepal’s judiciary has fallen into some serious disrepute.

He will be in office for nine months, and after his appointment assured the people through the media that he would not compromise on the independent judiciary at any cost.

The reason this statement sounded a bit defensive was because of the public perception that the previous interim electoral government led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi had compromised on the independence of the judiciary by removing the separation of powers. The Supreme Court has also been tainted by the appointment of six controversial justices earlier this year.

Khil Raj Regmi’s appointment was criticised by legal and media fraternity, and after Regmi stepped down, the gavel went to Damodar Prasad Sharma who immediately came under fire for the appointment of the controversial judges. Though Regmi’s government was successful in managing peaceful, free elections with a huge turnout last year, his decision to head the government undermined the independence of the justice system. Damodar Sharma’s lack of accountability tainted it further.

Sah knows that he has to set a lot of things right. He did speak up against the appointment of the justices by Sharma and wrote a note of dissent against two of the nominees. But, for the moment, he has no option but to retain them in the court.

Sah is from Mahottari and is the fourth Chief Justice from the Madhesi community. Not only is he from the plains, but he is a Sudhi, considered a ‘lower’ caste. His Madhesi predecessors tended to be from the higher castes. This itself is of great symbolic value to show that Nepal’s branches of government are becoming inclusive.

However, tokenism is not enough. Sah will have to prove that he is capable of reforming and cleaning up the judiciary. In his previous verdicts, Sah for his part, has shown decisiveness, competence, and demonstrated a clear vision. He started his career as a section officer in the Supreme Court 40 years ago, and during his long career has never been tainted by controversy except that he once asked for Rs 7 million for his medical treatment in Bangkok.

He has his work cut out: the Supreme Court has a massive backlog of 19,000 cases and not enough judges to clear it up. Sah’s predecessor, Damodar Prasad Sharma, had vowed to reduce the backlog of pending cases from 17,000, but instead the number of cases increased while he was Chief Justice. Previously, Sah was one of the members of Judicial Council, and hopefully, this will address the concerns of lawyers about Chief Justice appointments.

Sah has said that he will prioritise cases of rape and human trafficking, and clear them within three months. He has also promised a paperless court, which sounds a bit ambitious. Even so, he took a good first step of publishing the list of cases at 10am on the first day of his appointment. He has ordered Justices to be at the bench by 11am promptly and believes in a good start being a job half done.

A Transparency International report has shown repeatedly that there is massive corruption inside Nepal’s court system. Sah will have to tackle growing corruption within the judiciary and lessen the influence of power brokers in verdicts. Since graft is so ingrained, and almost regarded as standard operating procedure, Sah will need all the commitment he can muster to tackle corruption in the courts. Only then can he reassure the public that the Supreme Court is an independent arbiter of justice.

@binitadahal

Political Protection

Binita Dahal

My translated story published in Nepali Times on Sunday
http://www.nepalitimes.com.np/issue/2011/10/30/FromtheNepaliPress/18668

Ujjan Kumar Shrestha


Ujjan Kumar Shrestha and Renuka Poudel first met at a rice mill in village where they fell in love at first sight. Ujjan was married so they decided to elope. Eventually, she won acceptance from his family members. But this love marriage claimed life of three innocents.

On 24 June 1998, Ujjan was still fast asleep at his home in Okhaldhunga-7 Tarkebari, when two porters woke him up at around 3 am, insisting that he take them to Ghodi Danda Bazar. On the way, after 45 minute walk, Ujjan was alarmed when a torch light fell on his eyes.

Ganesh Kumar Shrestha


He saw a group of people hiding up in a terrace.

“Run” a sound warned from behind a stone boulder. The porters stepped back. They were Renuka’s brothers Dor Bahadur and Thal Bahadur, Balkrishna Dhungel, Puskar Gautam who had brought along their fellow comrades. Ujjan was scared to death. A bullet passed through his skull and he went tumbling down the terrace. He died instantly. They hurled his body into Kosi river.

Two months after the incident, both the porters admitted to the court they were acting under orders from Renuka’s bothers plan. Based on the statement of the porters, the Supreme Court slapped a life time imprisonment on Dhungel, who had fired the shot. Renuka’s brother and two porters have been released after serving the jail terms. Ujjan’s murderer Balkrishna Dhungel is now a Maoist CA member.

Ranjana Shrestha

Meanwhile Puskar absconded to Kathmandu, and worked as a journalist for a decade. The police never arrested him. He went to the UK for higher studies in 2007, returned to Kathmandu and is now living in Delhi. His case is still pending in Okhaldhunga district court.

“Ujjan’s body was never found,” said Sabitri Shrestha, Ujjan’s sister who has been fighting for justice for the past 13 years. “We performed his last rites without his body as commanded by police.”
Despite threats from Maoists, Ujjan’s brother Ganesh Kumar filed a FIR against the culprits

Sabitri recalls that Dhungel had announced in a public speech in the village that he would murder Ganesh Kumar too. Fearing for his life, Sabitri asked him to come to Kathmandu.

When Ganesh Kumar returned home after four years in 2002, the Maoists were alert. On 22 November, six strangers came to his house while he was working in fields. Unable to recognise him, they asked his 14-year old daughter Ranjana to identify him. They shot him dead right in front of her.

Ranjana could not bear the guilt of pointing her father out to his murderers. She too committed suicide in 2006.
The Maoists have seized all property belonging to Ujjan’s family. They bombed his house and his family members have never been able to go back to village for the past five years.