The reason the medical education reform ordinance has been stuck in the president’s office, for over two weeks now, is clear enough. The ordinance, which incorporates most of the widely-hailed recommendations of the Mathema Committee, would bar the opening of any new medical college inside Kathmandu valley. It will also result in the cancellation of the license of medical colleges deemed to have inadequate infrastructure and manpower. Since most of the operators of these questionable medical establishments have close links with senior CPN-UML leaders, they have obviously put the president under pressure not to endorse the ordinance. In meekly obeying their directive, President Bidya Devi Bhandari is proving that far from being the symbol of national unity, the role the new constitution envisions for the president, she is no more than just another UML leader who is beholden to vested interests in the party. She is doing great disservice to the image of the president. In blocking an ordinance forwarded by an elected government she is also overstepping her constitutional bounds. While the president can send back the ordinance asking the government to ‘reconsider’ it, she does not have the right to block or reject an ordinance.
Meanwhile, Dr Govinda KC has lodged a Right to Information (RTI) petition at the President’s Office, asking for reasons behind the long delay in the passage of the health education ordinance. If the president does not pass it within a week, the crusading orthopedic surgeon has threatened to start yet another fast-unto-death, which will be his 14th. Even if the president endorses the ordinance, for it to be enacted, the new parliament will have to subsequently clear it, which is far from a given with the left alliance standing against the ordinance. Nonetheless, this in no way justifies the president holding on to the ordinance, perhaps hoping that the left alliance will get a majority, in which case she can forward it to the federal parliament, safe in the knowledge that it has no chance of passing. But such self-serving and partisan calculations do not suit the image of the president, who is supposed to be above all political ties. Or perhaps we are mistaken and there is a credible reason President Bhandari is holding on to the ordinance. If so, as those who lodged the RTI petition on Tuesday have asked, she owes the country an honest explanation.
President Bhandari has repeatedly engaged in actions that are not in keeping with her expected role. For instance, her office some time ago requested the government for a new fleet of expensive vehicles even though the old fleet was working perfectly fine. She then left the country for Sri Lanka on an inconsequential visit during the first phase of local elections. Her motorcade routinely obstructs normal traffic, sometimes for hours. The roads in fact have to be cleared of all vehicles when she is moving around. And now she is blocking the all-important ordinance that promises to bring cheap and reliable healthcare to people’s doorsteps. Far from helping unite the country her callous actions are rather divisive.