The Opposition Party has demanded the government to stop its vested interests and hypocritical move to corporatise and privatise public health services.

According to a press release it issued yesterday, the government’s move to make Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) a corporation is against the several principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution. “By the same token, it is a flagrant violation of the Constitution.”

It states 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.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk, in an earlier interview with Kuensel, had said that people are concerned that they will be required to pay for health services once the hospital becomes a corporation. “The ministry will at any time protect this constitutional right of the citizens.”

Lyonpo had said, that the prime minister during the annual performance agreement signing with JDWNRH asked the hospital and the ministry to explore the possibility of providing financial benefits to the specialists to retain them.

The minister had instructed the health secretary and the presidents of the national referral hospital and the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMS) to form a high-level committee to deliberate on the proposal to make the national referral hospital a corporation.

Lyonpo said that making the hospital a corporate entity is the best solution for now. However, changing the status of the hospital into a corporate entity will depend on the proposal that will be submitted.

The opposition claims that corporatisation is not the right approach to retain specialists nor is it right for the government to blame the Royal Civil Service Commission (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,” its press release states.

The opposition claimed that they raised the issue for the first time at the Question Hour during the 9th session of the second parliament on May 19 this year.

“We believe corporatisation is only an ice-break move. The ultimate ulterior motive of the government is to pave way for privatisation of public health facilities and services,” the press release stated. “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 corporatisation as a means to solve all problems, paying little heed to the state policies and laws.”

The opposition states that this move by the government will have serious implications for the future well being of the people and nation.

“It will affect equitable access to public health services, widen the gap between the rich and the poor and jeopardise the good quality of life of the people,” it states. “The corporatisation of the hospital would effectively deprive the poor and humble of availing quality health services. Both cost and accessibility would become serious problems.”

However, the opposition claims that it is amenable to the idea of opening up the opportunity for private health services in certain areas based on a clear policy.

Since the issue is to retain medical specialists and providing adequate compensation, the opposition recommends that the matter be dealt through a review of their salary, allowances and benefits as per the Constitution instead of corporatisation. “The state policies should be protected and the rule of law respected.”

Dechen Tshomo