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Our View: Government’s consensus approach harmful to the public interest  

THE WEAKNESSES of the idea that all interested parties must have a say in government decision-making have finally been exposed. A study by foreign experts was needed to persuade politicians and policy-makers about what should have been blatantly obvious to anyone with common sense – that it is counter-productive to have people with direct financial interest participating in a committee deciding prices.

For years, however, the Committee for the Control of Drug Prices (EETF) consisted, apart from ministry technocrats, of a representative of pharmacists, drug importers, drug manufacturers, consumers and patients. Government consistently ignored the auditor-general’s advice that members of the committee should not have a direct interest in the issues under examination as this contravened the basic principle of administrative justice. Representatives of interest groups could have been invited to committee meeting to express their views, rather than participate in the decision-making.

Admittedly, this is standard practice in many aspects of policy-making. Representatives of teaching unions, for instance, sit at meetings deciding how the education system be reformed, despite their objective being the safeguarding of the interests of their members. No experts, however, have ever been invited to tell the government that this was an irrational way of deciding policy. In the case of the EETF, the former health minister, Philippos Patsalis asked the London School of Economics to conduct a study, to back his claim that the committee’s composition was wrong.

The study noted that representatives of private interests had a vote in actions that determined drug prices and concluded it was “essential to exclude individuals with conflict of interest.” Such committees in other EU countries were made up in a way that ensured objectivity so that no decision taken would serve private interests. Did we really need experts to tell us what was blatantly obvious? Would drug suppliers and pharmacists not always argue for higher prices that would give them bigger margins?

After seeing the study the government approved an amendment to the relevant law by which the line-up of the EETF would consist of technocrats and experts, while there was a provision for consultations with interested parties. The new arrangement was not foolproof because not all technocrats are honest, but it was an improvement of the existing one. However, for unknown reason the amendment bill was recently withdrawn from the legislature by the government prompting calls for an explanation from deputies.

Regardless of the explanation, we hope government and politicians would learn something from recommendations of the LSE study – having parties with a direct financial interest participating in decision-making is not a very smart idea. In many cases, the so-called consensus approach to policy that all our politicians worship harms rather than serves the interests of the public.

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