By Chris Obore
Ever since medical doctors started their rightful agitation for improved salaries and downed their tools, the leader of the Uganda Medical Association, Dr Ekwaro Obuku, has made it a tradition to lampoon Members of Parliament.
He has given media interviews saying the country can do without MPs, but not doctors. Such statements undermine Parliament and lack broader appreciation of the contribution that each and every individual or institution must make for the well-being of society. The statements serve to confuse the gullible and extremist individuals.
There is nothing wrong with doctors pushing for their welfare. The contribution of doctors to the well-being of society is not under dispute. However, by saying the country can do without MPs, Dr Obuku gets overboard – from agitating for salaries – to undermining the role that other institutions play in the well-being of society. That ceases being a cause for better working conditions for doctors, but a power struggle.
The good doctor needs to calm down and face the fact that doctors are because the State is. The State includes Parliament.
A doctor cannot be higher than an MP because you cannot become a doctor unless you are recognised by the State. Parliament is the State institution that determines the boundaries of that recognition.
Therefore, doctors cannot exist without Parliament as Dr Obuku assumes.
It is Parliament that determines who qualifies to be a doctor thus Parliament defines doctors. Do not wonder how. Because doctors are so valuable in society, but can also err, there is a public law to protect doctors and also punish doctors when they abuse privileges allocated to them. That law was made by MPs.
A doctor is primarily a professional, whose focus in the execution of their work is narrowed to the field of training, but a politician’s focus is wider.
Politics is all about allocation of resources even to doctors. That is why doctors are now asking politicians to do so. If the doctors were everything they think they are, then they would be having all resources at their disposal hence no need for the strike.
Dr Obuku needs to graduate from this debate of fire is better than water. Much as any doctor can become a politician, not every politician can become a doctor. A doctor undergoes privileged training, but that does not make them superior to other professions. Being a doctor and being a politician or a lawyer are simply different callings to serve wider individual and societal needs. One is not better than the other. Comparing a doctor to an MP is a cognitive distortion because they are not in competition and they are not executing the same thing.
In public policy terms, the role of a doctor is to execute the will of the people as expressed by politicians. Doctors are under obligation to execute the will of Parliament in order to promote the will of the people. But there are situations when a doctor feels his or her role has changed. Such a doctor can then join politics. Indeed, we have such doctors in Parliament.
There is, however, a point of convergence between a doctor and a politician – they are both meant to serve public interest. None of them is rewarded what is commensurate to their tasks and efforts. A doctor only sees an MP to be earning more because that doctor is expressing a comparative need without consideration of the comparative challenges.
Because economists have told us that resources will never be enough anywhere in the world, individual commitment to our callings becomes the driving force behind successful public service. A committed doctor or MP will go beyond what is commensurate with their pay to offer a public service. That feeling that one is a good lawyer, journalist, teacher, carpenter, etc, is what makes every calling noble.
Commitment in this case is about restrictions. If you have committed yourself to pursue good, then you restrict yourself from doing bad.
A committed doctor swears the Hippocratic Oath, which is about preservation of human life. If you have already committed yourself to preserve human life, then you are restricted from any activity that threatens life.
Any doctor who does anything not showing commitment to preserve life is not committed to the medical calling and should be free to join any other calling, including Parliament.
I suggest to Dr Obuku that the cause of the doctors should not be lost in an attempt to make it doctors versus MPs issue. Politicians are not saints hence they do not give the proverbial other cheek when slapped. The primary calling of politicians is to compete for power while the primary calling of doctors is to preserve life, not competing for power. It is fallacious to compare the two. Have some respect for MPs and Parliament.
Mr. Obore is the director of communications and public affairs at Parliament.