Opposition accuses govt. of vested interest in JDWNRH corporatization

a high-level committee including the health secretary, presidents of the National Referral Hospital and Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Science of Bhutan will deliberate on the proposal to corporatize it

The opposition party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), has accused the government of having vested interest in the move to corporatize the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH).

According to DPT, the government’s move to corporatize JDWNRH is against the several principles of state policy enshrined in the Constitution. It said that the proposal violates Article 9 (21) of the Constitution which mandates the State to provide free access to basic public health services both in modern and traditional medicines.

In a press release, the opposition party said corporatization is only an “ice-break move” and that the ultimate motive of the government is to pave way for the privatization of public health facilities and services.

“This is yet another of its numerous ill-considered adventures and a part of the recent trend of the functioning of the government to use corporatization as a means to solve all problems, paying little heed to the state policies and laws,” reads the press release.

However, an official from the hospital told Business Bhutan: “Corporatization is not privatization, nothing will change.”

The official said health services will be free of cost to the people. “With the corporatization of the hospital, the authority lies with the hospital, it will determine the salary of the employees, and it will also give the hospital to make a choice as to whom they want and whom they do not,” said the official.

However, the opposition party said the government’s move will have serious implications on the future well-being of the people and nation.

“In particular, it will affect equitable access to public health services, widen the gap between the rich and the poor and jeopardize the good quality of life of the people. This will be disastrous for the overwhelming majority of the citizens,” states the press release. It also added that corporatization of the national referral hospital would effectively deprive the poor and humble from availing quality health services. Both cost and accessibility would become serious problems.

According to the official, the hospital employees’ salary can be raised and they will not have to follow the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) rules and while purchasing medical equipment, the hospital may not necessarily seek approval or permission from the government if the move comes through.

“However, the corporatization will not happen overnight and the committee formed is still studying the feasibility of the corporatization of the hospital,” said the official.

But the opposition party feels neither is corporatization the right approach to retaining specialists nor is it right for the government to blame the RCSC and the Pay Commission as being hindrances to enhancing the pay and allowances of the specialists.

“The ultimate authority with regard to salary and allowances lies with the Parliament,” said the opposition party. Meanwhile, a few staff from JDWNRH under anonymity told the paper that corporatization of the hospital would prove unfair as those paid low currently would have less advantages compared to higher-salaried staff.

The DPT press release also states that blaming the RCSC, a constitutional body entrusted to ensure a just and competent administration, for the failure of the government is both sad and worrying.

The opposition has recommended that since it is the issue of the retention of medical specialists and adequate compensation, the matter should be dealt with through the review of their salary, allowances and benefits as per the Constitution instead of corporatization. According to the opposition, this is the second time the party has raised the issue to the government. The first time, it was raised at the question hour during the ninth session of the second parliament on May 19, 2017.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu