Thursday, May 15, 2014

New state-of-the-art military hospital opened

The President opened a new military hospital, supposedly the largest in the country last week. Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, it has cost around Rs.3,500m; equivalent to around 9% of the entire capital expenditure budgeted for health in 2014.

While I am generally opposed to an enlarged role of the state in public life, spending on health and and education are generally benign. The spending in these areas still requires rigorous scrutiny to maximise the public good, but it is much better than, say,  spending it on the bureaucracy (which is expected to swallow Rs.317,000m in salaries and allowances alone in 2014).

The need for a new military hospital arose because of the need to free the land occupied by the old military hospital in Galle Face, for development. The old military hospital was a part of the army headquarters at Galle Face that contained some rather gracious colonial buildings.

(The old military hospital, borrowed from here)

 I hope whatever development is planned preserves the nicer old buildings, it's been a long time since I went that way but remember that they seemed quite impressive. The hospital had wide verandah's, a bit like the Galle Face Hotel.

The more serious question is whether the spending priorities are right.

As I write, my father is sitting in an ordinary ward of the National Hospital in Colombo, awaiting treatment for a fractured toe. The hospital is crowded and the cleanliness leaves something to be desired, a far cry from the conditions in a private hospital. The family tends to be a bit traditional in outlook, they would not consider spending on a private hospital. At least he has a bed of his own and we have brought him a few extra pillows and sheets. The standards in rural hospitals, though, may be worse.

Instead of putting down tonnes of concrete on airports and ports that receive no traffic, wasting billions running airlines why don't they spend on something that would be of real use to the public? Something that is a real necessity? Sri Lankan Airlines lost Rs.30.1bn in 2014, over eight times the cost of the new military hospital.

On questions of health, the public are faced with a choice of paying through their nose for private care or poor conditions in the state system. Company medical plans usually cover private hospitals but for pensioners or retirees it unaffordable and there is no real halfway house between the two.

Actually there is a very decent halfway house between the two extremes, the Merchant's Ward of the National Hospital. This offers good care and conditions at very reasonable rates, something that is affordable to the middle class. (Rajaratarala has a good post on the conditions in the Merchant Ward).

The problem is that it is impossible to get into the Merchant Ward, since it is always occupied by politicians. We have hundreds of these bandits and they all use the Merchant ward so its impossible for ordinary people to access, unless one is very lucky.

This is the really sad irony of our Banana Republic, not only is the country being raped by the political class, they also perversely monopolise access to essential infrastructure. The Merchant's Ward is supposed to be 95 years old, who built it or why I do not know, I can only say it would be a lot more useful to invest in things like this than the grandiloquent infrastructure mushrooming everywhere.  


Liberal One said...

Even with a mere $3000 per capita this "banana republic" provides universal free education and free state health and have some human development indexes on par with advanced nations. This is after decades of war and foreign destabilization. That is why we are optimistic about our "banana republic".

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you there bud.

Had a few arguments with some fellow colleagues who worship the administration too.

They come up with this when there is no war in the country. Funny stuff dude..

Jack Point said...

Thanks sacramentum.

Liberal One, the free health and education systems are good investments. My question is more on why there should not be more investment in this rather than elsewhere.

According to what I have read and heard there has been significant declines in the standards of both since the 1960's which is a cause of real worry.