Health benefits doled out is a condition of service for public officials – Dr Luncheon

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By Radha Motielall

The Donald Ramotar led administration.

[www.inewsguyana.com] – Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon has defended the medical assistance provided to government ministers/officials by stating that it has been inherited and supported by successive governments of Guyana.

According to Dr Luncheon, this is what obtained prior to the PPP/C taking office in 1992, and it is what the PPP/C continued to implement in the years to follow.

At his post cabinet media briefing on Wednesday, March 04, he stressed that the health benefits as disposed by the Ministry of Health is a condition of service for cabinet members.

Dr. Luncheon explained that what happened during the current administration’s tenure is an expansion of the category of beneficiaries to include officials outside of the cabinet and government, such as Opposition Parliamentarians and their families.

It was noted however, that this medical benefit does not fall under “a rules based” system and in an apparent defence of not implementing a rules based system, the Cabinet Secretary recalled the many challenges and objections in efforts to bring such benefits under regulations, by highlighting those the President’s Benefits Bill attracted.

Various media entities last week reported on the medical expenses of government officials paid for by the state during the period 2012-13, where it was noted that the government spent $361 million on health expenses, mostly for government officials, during the period in question.

The Stabroek News had reported that the late Presidential Advisor Navin Chandarpal was at the head of the list, with $116 million spent for cancer treatment. Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s medical expenses which were met by the taxpayer totalled $4.9 million, with “medical support” being listed as the diagnosis, while Minister within the Ministry of Agriculture Ali Baksh had a coronary bypass for which the state paid $12.2 million.

The government also paid his air fare, which amounted to $249,600. According to the Stabroek News, Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy, accounted for $1million, the late former Minister of Education Dale Bisnauth ($1.6 million) and Deputy Mayor Robert Williams, also now deceased ($2.1 million).

It was noted that Gitanjali Singh of the Audit Office and wife of Minister of Finance Ashni Singh, whose medical expenses in Canada together with her air fare amounted to over $3.4 million. Former Justice BS Roy was given $5.9 million for a coronary bypass which this time was done in Trinidad.

Additionally, Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai received $2.1 million from the government for dental work, while Minister of Human Services Jennifer Webster was the recipient of $1.3 million, also for dental work.