Medicine for the not so needy

Medicine for the not so needy

The issue of state-funded medical care in which 10 MPs are involved in financial irregularities has been on the front pages of several local newspapers. Ten MPs have proven to be involved in the scandal, eight belonging to the National Democratic Party (NDP) and two with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud had set 15 July as the start of the investigation by the prosecution which involves the exploitation of public funds.

Mahmoud received a comprehensive report from People’s Assembly (PA) Speaker Fathi Sorour which was prepared by the Health Ministry and the Central Auditing Agency (CAA). The report accuses 10 MPs of committing serious violations regarding the healthcare system. According to the report, the MPs received the approval of more than 8,000 state- funded medical care decrees from the Health Ministry for people who do not necessarily need them. The amount exceeded LE70 million, all used in medical treatment for patients who were either not in need of money or covered by other medical care systems.

The report also implicates Cabinet employees whom it said were registered in state-funded medical care even though they already receive medical coverage from a different system. It also reveals that state-funded medical care decrees were either issued to patients in private hospitals or to patients with fabricated names, and undergoing surgical operations at hospitals which are not on the list of the state-funded medical care system.

According to the report, among the medical care MPs were Saadeddin Azab of Kafr Shokr who alone received 279 state-fund medical care decrees for people who do not deserve them at the tune of LE24.5 million. MP Gamalat Abdel-Hamid of Qalioubiya governorate obtained similar decrees worth more than LE10 million. MP Mohi El-Zeidi got state-funded medical care statements worth more than LE24 million. MP Omran Megahed was provided state-funded medical care decrees totalling LE24 million. All the decrees were issued within only four months, from 1 September 2009 to 31 December of the same year.

Deputy PA Speaker Zeinab Radwan said there had been requests by MPs to remove parliamentary immunity from the accused. “Immunity has not yet been removed since the PA did not receive any official request from the prosecutor- general,” stated Radwan. Should the PA speaker receive such a request “he has full legal authority to lift parliamentary immunity from them, even if the PA does not convene,” Radwan said.

The crisis began when Health Minister Hatem El-Gabali exposed the issue to parliament in February last year. Accordingly, Sorour requested all concerned authorities to provide him with all the information they have regarding the issue.

Abdel-Rahman Shahin, official spokesman of the Ministry of Health, said the violations also included medical treatment which are not on the list such as plastic surgery and teeth whitening. “MPs were acting as if there was no limit to state-funded medical care,” stated Shahin who declined to provide further details while the matter was being investigated by the general prosecution. Shahin said there were violations committed by employees of the Health Ministry. “Those employees, if proven guilty, will be severely penalised,” Shahin warned.

An official at the NDP told Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity that the party is considering not nominating any of the accused MPs in the upcoming PA elections “due to the embarrassment they have caused the party at this critical time. They neither respected themselves nor the party they belong to. During the coming few weeks, party officials will decided whether to put or remove them from the party’s nomination list,” stated the source.

Defending herself, MP Gamalat Abdel-Hamid rejected accusations regarding exploiting the medical care programme. Abdel-Hamid said she never knew there was a ceiling to the decrees issued for free medical care. “I have not reported these violations until now. Nobody told me there are limits to the decrees issued to people regarding free medical care,” added Abdel-Hamid.

In a related story, MP Mohamed Abdel-Alim of the Wafd Party said he had submitted three interpellations since January concerning the cost of medical treatment in the US granted to Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali and the wife of Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabali. “This treatment was paid for by the government. Why should the government pay for a minister and a wife of another for being treated abroad? This is the people’s money. Is it because they are poor and can’t afford the cost of being treated abroad? Or is it because they do not want to pay the heavy bill of medical treatment?” wondered Abdel-Alim.

In response to Abdel-Alim’s accusations, Shahin said it was the “constitutional right of ministers to be treated by the state as well as their families.”