The National Assembly yesterday snubbed the government’s move to corporatise Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH).
With a majority vote, the Assembly’s decision endorsed the Opposition’s motion to stop the corporatisation of JDWNRH with immediate effect. Reaching this decision was, however, confusing for the country’s highest decision-making body. After stating that the Opposition’s motion did not garner the required simple majority vote, the Speaker said that the motion was not endorsed.
However, when the session resumed after tea, the Speaker clarified that the motion to stop the corporatisation of JDWNRH is endorsed, based on section 174 of the National Assembly Act and section 264 of the Rules of Procedure. These sections state that, “except as otherwise prescribed by the Constitution, National Assembly Act and this Procedure, all questions proposed for decision of the House shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting.”
While it appears that all it took was semantics to abort the much-debated issue of corporatising the national referral hospital, the deliberations revealed more. Members claiming confusion with the way the Speaker posed the question, abstained from voting. He asked those who say no to corporatisation to press ‘yes’ and those who are for corporatisation to press ‘no.’ The house saw 19 “yes” and 15 “no” votes. Voting records are not shared, but the numbers show members from the ruling party voting against the government’s decision. Members share that the cabinet rarely consult them for decisions or proposed reforms and that they learn about the government’s decisions through the media.
Blaming one another has become routine in the National Assembly discussions and this was on display again with the corporatisation issue bristling our health ministers, the incumbent and the former. The people are as much aware of what has been done by which government as they are of what has not been done. Debates on the corporatisation issue reflect how closely people follow the policies and its politics. It is time our honourable MPs and ministers stopped blaming each other and the media to justify one’s stand.
We must not forget that the issue of how to retain specialists is at the core of this debate. This will remain an issue for any elected government. While the strategy was questionable, the intent of this government was appreciable. It is hoped that the health ministry will continue exploring other avenues to retain specialists and improve the hospital’s efficiency. It offers an opportunity to resume conversations with the civil service commission and an in-depth study to assess the situation of our specialists must be pursued.
Fearing that corporatisation would lead to privatisation, the Opposition claims that it has raised concerns on corporatisation four times. Going by the National Assembly’s decision, it appears that they have been heard. The people are reminded that Opposition party exists.
But even as discussions on the corporatisation saga withers, discourse on healthcare and its sustainability must continue. Bhutan’s progress hinges on the health of her people.