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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Calling a spade a spade: what is Dr. Shashi Sharma up to?

A version of this article was first published in today's Setopati. 

The situation surrounding the fast onto death by Dr. Govinda K C in TU Teaching Hospital (on 6th day today) has become very complicated with blatant refusal of the tainted Dean Dr. Shashi Sharma to step down. The resulting deadlock is likely to be very costly for the medical fraternity as well as the country.

As Dr. Sharma with his yesterday's statements has made a bitter confrontation inevitable, the doctors in the country are all set to proceed rather aggressively to force him to step down so that the life of Dr. Govinda K C can be saved. The issues of patients suffering because of such a tussle in one institution will surely catch the media headlines in the coming days. But meanwhile some issues that do not come easily to the surface and hence left in dark yet matter immensely in the whole saga have to be dug upon at this opportunity. For this precise reason, the behavior and potential motive of the Dean Dr Sharma have to be understood at length.

Dr. Sharma has been arguing that he has come through due process and cannot be forced out now merely because someone opposes him. He has frenzily proposed to transform the institution and even to help establish an independent medical university out of ill-fated Institute of Medicine(IOM). He has overtly rubbished the other demands of Dr. K C like punishing the former IOM officials for irregularities during their tenures by saying that 'nothing had ever been proved against them'.

Unable to point out how Dr. Sharma's appointment process could be questionable, the doctors till yesterday had been trying to seek a face-saving measure for him as well while saving the life of Dr. K C. By openly dismissing the possibility of stepping down and trying to subvert the entire discourse on reforming public institutions by stopping political interference, however, Dr. Sharma has readied himself for a heavy and bruising landing down the line.

So what are the parallels of Dr. Sharma in Nepali society? What developments led him to today's position?

To be blunt, Dr. Shashi Sharma is the equivalent of political players Prachanda and K P Oli in medical field. Everybody knows Prachanda and co. siphoned of millions out of the funds meant for the former combatants in the cantonments. K P Oli is similarly known for nurturing a very unscrupulous network of goons that run a huge chunk of informal or black economy in the country thereby insurmountably benefiting financially. But what is the proof in either case? When there was the real risk of being investigated and prosecuted, the duo conspired in appointing their crony Lokman Singh Karki as the CIAA chief. Practically, they will never be caught by the law now as they have effectively 'managed' their illicit activities.

Very same with Dr. Shashi Sharma: he indulged in host of corrupt and professionally unethical practices while in the post of Vice President of Nepal Medical Council, a body that is supposed to regulate health sector and medical education sector but is now unfortunately regulated by the owners of the private medical colleges and hospitals. Inadvertently, he was somehow dragged to the CIAA and according to reports, his files are in the investigation stage after finding tangible evidence of wrongdoing in the preliminary investigations. If the rule of law were to prevail and if CIAA chief were anyone other than crony of the most brazenly corrupt in the country, he would have been thoroughly investigated and probably already prosecuted by now.

But given the travesty of justice in the country, the good offices of Prachanda, JN Khanal and KP Oli and NC leadership (all of whom have reportedly endorsed him for the post of Dean here) are sure to influence the pace of investigation in CIAA and most likely he will be never prosecuted.

The consequence: while the future of the whole Nepali generation is being slowly poisoned by the bigotry of people like Prachanda and K P Oli, the right to reasonable health care service of an entire generation is being  jeopardized by the vested interests of people like Dr. Shashi Sharma.

So where does this leave all of us? Should we all be mere spectators of this brazen subversion of the rule of law and blatant manipulation of the organs of state that were supposed to check such illicit practices?

As health of Dr. K C deteriorates rapidly, there is little time to lose. As I and host of other friends at the fraternity have been arguing both on and off the record, this fight is not for the betterment of a single institution. If the criminal motive of the politicians in appointing a disgraceful person like Dr. Sharma in an institution like IOM triumphs now, their pockets will get deeper. But what will happen to the public institution catering to millions of health service-seekers and thousands of doctors and health workers? What will be the precedent for future protests for reform in same or similar institutions?

While the priority so far was to save Dr. K C's life by fulfilling the minimum demands that he agrees on, it should change now and we should focus also on bringing the likes of Dr. Sharma to the book. The putrefaction in the politics of the country is already suffocating this struggling country and, to be honest, we too have to shoulder the responsibility for such a sorry state of affairs because it has been possible because of our indifference towards the brazen acts of political leaders.

Let the filth of political interference choke the public institutions like IOM and we are destined for a doomed future. And from the ruins of our aspirations and dreams, the trio of Prachanda, K P Oli and Shashi Sharma will emerge smiling: see, we are honest, no authority proved us corrupt and we have built the institutions and the country. 

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