ISLAMABAD - The Senate Defence Committee on Monday passed the military run National University of Medical Sciences Bill giving sweeping powers to the army-run medical university in setting standards in medical education bypassing the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, the federal watchdog and regulatory body of medical education throughout the country.

The meeting presided over by Chairman Mushahid Hussain Sayed, was attended by Senators Farhatullah Babar, Moulana Ataur Rehman, Lt. General Abdul Qayum (retd), Salahuddin Tirmizi and John Kenneth Williams. Secretary Defence, Deputy Surgeon General of the Army and other senior officers of Defence Ministry and proposed NUMS also attended the meeting.

Objecting to the Bill, Pakistan People’s Party Senator Farhatullah Babar suggested that a clause be added making it mandatory for the NUMS to follow the PMDC by-laws and regulations in matters of prescribing a uniform and minimum standards of courses and minimum qualifications and experience required for medical professors and teachers.

However, the proposal was not accepted on the ground that the amendment would have to be referred back to the National Assembly and would delay passage of the Bill.

“It is unprecedented and illegal to allow NUMS also act as a regulator of medical education in some medical institutions just because those institutions are run by the military,” he said adding the job of a regulator is that of the PMDC and not that of a military run university.

He said that the PMDC Ordinance 1962 amended including the latest amendment last month was a federal law meant to regulate all aspects of medical education throughout the country and could not be bypassed.

NUMS may become a world class medical university but it cannot be allowed to become its own regulator just because it is run and operated by the army, he added.

Senator Babar said that if PMDC had failed in performing its functions properly and was subject to criticism it did not mean that its work should be entrusted to the military. “Let the PMDC be reformed instead of taking over its functions.”

The proposed law gave the University’s Academic Council all powers to regulate medical education independently and without reference to the overarching PMDC law or even its representative being on the Academic Council, he added.

To resolve the issue, Babar proposed three options. One, the NUMS Bill should be amended so as to recognise and give primacy to the regulatory role of PMDC in the matters of regulating quality of education and qualifications for appointments in the new University in accordance with the PMDC law. The second option, he said, is if the army did not like to submit to a civilian regulatory body, then it should seek NOC from the PMDC for abdicating its role and responsibility in favour of NUMS.

Third, he said, even if it was not acceptable and civilian oversight was anathema to the military-run institution then the Committee may pass the Bill by and he will record his note of dissent.

He then recorded his dissenting note which read in part: “The space of the civilian institutions has already shrunk shockingly and disturbingly. It would be most unfortunate if we fail to arrest this free fall of the civilian institutions and continue to abdicate legitimate civilian space in matters of governance and regulation to the military authorities. It is in the military’s interest also that the perception of driving from the back seat but never letting off the control of the wheel is not allowed to strengthen any further. We must raise our voice against this onslaught. Let the NUMS Bill be the litmus test in this regard and hence this note of dissent.”

Ataur Rehman said that he agreed with the observations of Senator Babar. However, if Babar’s objections could not stop the adoption of the bill, how could he stop it, the cleric added.