Šalaševičiūtė said that offering "thank you" cash gifts to doctors was a remnant from the Soviet times that was hard to do away with.
"To be honest, I myself brought an envelope [with cash] five or six years ago, because a close relative categorically insisted she would not have a surgery, unless the doctor is compensated in advance. All my efforts to convince her otherwise were in vain," Šalaševičiūtė said on Žinių Radijas. "I did not know how to give it: slip the envelope in between papers, put it in the pocket or what?"
She said that the Ministry was putting much effort into tackling large-scale corruption in the healthcare system and has fired several hospital heads for shady public procurement contracts. However, she added, it was much more difficult to fight small-scale corruption.
"The problem is that the tradition is hard to root out: when you go to see a doctor, you feel you must bring something: a box of chocolates, something else or even an envelope with cash. [...] We really try to do away with it, but without any concerted effort of patients and the public it will be difficult to achieve," Šalaševičiūtė said.
The minister was later asked to give more details about the incident by 15min.lt. She said the sum in question was "not a big one" and she would not give away the identity of the doctor. She added that she was sorry about doing so.
No vision for fighting corruption
Sergejus Muravjovas, the head of Transparency International Lithuania, said the minister's party, the Social Democrats, should investigate her behaviour and consider if she is suitable for the post.
"We must ask if Šalaševičiūtė should have been appointed to the post of minister, had we known about this event before; and in a Western democracy, would a politician, who has offered a bribe to a doctor, be suited to lead a ministry and efforts against corruption?" Muravjovas told BNS. "I believe answers to these questions are straightforward enough."
He added that although the majority of the public could sympathise with Šalaševičiūtė and recognize themselves in the same situation, but as a politicians and a leader, she has to live up to higher standards.
"Unfortunately, the minister's comportment in this situation shows that she has no vision for how to reduce corruption in healthcare. Her results at the ministry attest to that. Under her leadership, the ministry took no special action to reduce corruption in healthcare. The natural question is, do we want this kind of health minister?" Muravjovas said.
Opposition leader Andrius Kubilius has also questioned Šalaševičiūtė's suitability to continue in the post.
"She has created a number of problems that require answers. She said she had committed a crime listed in the Criminal Code. The issue immediately is whether it should be investigated by the law-enforcement," Kubilius of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (conservatives) told BNS Lithuania on Thursday.
"Both the prime minister and the president should establish whether the minister of health can continue in the post. If we shut our eyes to such cases, we are sending a very bad signal to the nation – politicians tolerate bribery, if a minister does it," said the conservative.
In his words, if there is no reaction from the government, the opposition is likely to initiate an interpellation against Šalaševičiūtė.
The head of the Special Investigation Service (STT) said the institution will look into the case.
"We are now looking into the situation, evaluating evidence, and we will then make the decision," Saulius Urbanavičius told reporters on Thursday.
He said that his service could open an investigation and question the minister.
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