Summer tourists – this is the new term used to describe the 6,000 Kuwaiti citizens who were sent on summer tours to Europe and USA for treatment of minor medical issues. However, their sole purpose was to travel overseas on holiday. They were sent on government expenses with minimum two companions fully paid including daily pocket money.
This new phenomenon started about five years ago with the aim of pleasing the members of the parliament who otherwise would grill any member of the government. Such a facility was not known to the public until in the recent years when the cost began to appear in the annual budget of Kuwait and that number started becoming bigger.
As reported in a local newspaper, the latest estimated annual cost has reached almost KD 840 million from the previous costs of KD 350 million, KD 500 million and KD 600 million, as the number of summer patients have been increasing from 2,000 to the current 6,000.
Majority of them are receiving summer treatments in UK, France, Germany and USA at the highest cost of KD 78,000 each.
This year, most of our overseas health offices ran out of cash, which caused some problems with the so-called patients and the European hospitals, forcing the government to create some sort of emergency/contingency cash allowance for Ministry of Health.
The problem lies with the government and its decisions to cut costs and reduce subsidies on oil, electricity and water. We reluctantly abided by these decisions with the hope that the annual budget deficit will reduce. However, the same government spends more than KD 840 million for 6,000 citizens to go on free tours in Europe. This is just not fair. This is equivalent to 120 patients for each MP.
Yes, the government has decided to stop this facility of free overseas medical treatment for now until the summer is over. But we know that it will be back next May in the summer of 2017 with a bigger budget and higher numbers.
Are we really serious about reducing costs and balancing the annual budget?
By Kamel Al-Harami
Independent Oil Analyst