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Sindh hails Centre’s decision to return key hospitals

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Citing financial constraints, the federal government has decided “in principle” to hand over three hospitals of Sindh and another of Punjab to the respective provincial governments “with their mutual consent”.

“The decision in this regard was taken in the last federal cabinet meeting held on June 17,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza told Dawn on Saturday.

The hospitals to be handed over to the Sindh government are: the National Institute of Cardio­vas­cular Diseases (NICVD), Jin­nah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and National Institute of Child Health (NICH). The three health facilities are located in Karachi. Besides, the Sheikh Zayed Postgraduate Medical Institute, Lahore, will be handed over to the Punjab government.

PM’s aide says decision taken in June 17 cabinet meeting

The Sindh government, meanwhile, has welcomed the federal cabinet’s decision, saying it has also endorsed the “just stance” taken by Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the provincial government.

The Adviser to the Chief Minister on Information and Law, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, said the Sindh government had invested billions of rupees in improving the JPMC, NICVD and NICH after the hospitals were handed over to the provincial government under the 18th Amendment.

“The Sindh government had argued earlier that the federal government doesn’t have the capacity to run these hospitals,” he said.

Mr Wahab said expansion of the NICVD to several other cities was an instance of the excellent performance of the Sindh government.

He said the provincial government had been spending more than Rs16 billion on the three hospitals annually to ensure free-of-cost treatment for patients from different parts of the country without any discrimination.

He said the very principle of devolution set in the 18th Amendment needed to be given respect in letter and spirit.

The federal government had assumed the administrative control of the four hospitals a few months ago citing directives from the Supreme Court.

Read: Ownership of Karachi’s JPMC, NICVD, NICH to remain with federal govt, SC rules

The controversial takeover sparked criticism and protest from the PPP-led Sindh government, which said the takeover had been made in haste since the provincial government had already filed a review petition in the court and Islamabad should have waited till the decision on the petition.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah made another point last month when he referred to the federal budget that made no allocations for the three major hospitals in Sindh’s teeming capital.

The special assistant to the PM on national health services said modalities for handing over the four hospitals to the provincial governments were yet to be decided with the consent of the Supreme Court as under the court order of Jan 1, the federal government had started the process of taking over the charge of the four hospitals.

Read: Taking over hospitals

The apex court had ordered the federal government to take over these hospitals within 90 days.

In the light of the Supreme Court’s judgement and the federal cabinet’s decision of April 2, the health ministry on May 24 had issued a notification declaring that administrative control of the four hospitals now lied with the federal government.

Dr Zafar Mirza said the federal law minister and the attorney general would soon apprise the Supreme Court that the centre could not take over the hospitals due to several reasons.

He said the federal government believed that due to a political tussle between PTI-led coalition government at the centre and the PPP-led Sindh government, the Karachi hospitals could not be run properly and ultimately the patients would suffer. “Although we are not satisfied with the performance of the management three hospitals in Karachi, we have decided to hand them over to the Sindh government,” he added.

Dr Mirza said financial constraints being faced by the federal government were one of the reasons behind its reluctance to run these health institutions.

The cabinet decision also said that the health ministry would engage with both the provincial governments to assess the budget requirements of the four hospitals both on current and development side.

Officials in Islamabad said the federal government might also, through the office of the attorney general, get review applications filed by the two provinces, fixed for hearing to determine the finality of the cases, giving “the provinces another chance to argue their case before the Honourable Supreme Court”.

An official said the attorney general and the law ministry would also pray the apex court for review of its decision.

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