THE presidential ‘ambush’ that dissolved the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council through an ordinance on Sunday and replaced it with the Pakistan Medical Commission, is baffling to say the least. Even if the intention was honest — the prime minister’s special assistant on health has claimed that the change has been made to modernise the country’s medical education regime — the route taken by the government to bypass the elected parliament on the issue has made the entire exercise controversial.
The government had failed to push through the Senate a similar law — the PMDC Ordinance 2019 — to deal with issues related to medical colleges, attached hospitals and health professionals earlier this year because of stern resistance from the opposition parties enjoying a majority in the upper house. But it would have been much better for the government to have made a serious attempt to take the opposition parties into confidence on its proposals, instead of choosing the less-favoured path of resorting to presidential ordinances. Let alone talking to the opposition parties, the writers of the new law did not even consult the management of the public medical institutions, bodies representing doctors and other stakeholders before unilaterally and secretly implementing the decision. The haste shown by the government in bringing in the ordinance without wider consultation gives credence to the allegations that the step had been taken in connivance with the management of the private medical institutions and to please their politically influential owners.
The PMDC — the statutory regulatory authority responsible for prescribing standards for, and governing, medical education and profession in the country — had for some time been enforcing stricter criteria to regulate the mushrooming of private medical colleges in the country in line with an earlier apex court decision. Some of these colleges were shut down and others were made to stop admitting students who could afford to pay huge sums in donations, even if they were at the bottom of the merit list. In order to mitigate the financial burden on middle-class students, the PMDC had capped the fee for all private institutions. The teaching hospitals attached with these institutions were made to comply with stricter criteria and improve facilities. It is quite obvious that the owners of these colleges did not like the restrictions that would cut into their massive profits and force them to provide better facilities to their students. The new ordinance will allow the private medical institutions much greater autonomy to operate. They will now be free to accept donations from students, charge higher fees, choose a university of their own liking for affiliation, set their own criteria for hiring faculty and what not. True, there had been several complaints against the PMDC and the far-from-ideal manner in which it was being run. But surely, the military-style coup to eliminate it was not warranted in the least.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2019