Health Minister’s move ‘completely flawed’
bY SURESH PERERA
The sacking of the president and four members nominated to the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) by the previous government has triggered an uproar, with medical professionals slamming Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi’s move as “completely flawed” and “an attempt to undermine the autonomy and independence of the apex regulatory body”.
Expressing consternation over his sudden dismissal as the president of the statutory body, eminent Specialist Consultant Paediatrician, Prof. Harendra de Silva, said he was contemplating legal action against his removal by the Minister.
“I will be challenging my dismissal in the Court of Appeal”, he said.
In terms of the Medical Ordinance, there is no provision to remove the president or any of the four council members nominated by the serving Health Minister of the time, he asserted.
“Before I was informed of my termination, some Health Ministry officials urged me to resign, but I declined to do so”, Dr. de Silva told The Sunday Island.
Pressure was also exerted on the other four members of the council to step down, he noted. “However, we collectively stood our ground and refused to throw in the towel”.
“It was after I dismissed the overtures calling for my resignation that a letter indicating that I have been removed as SLMC president was sent across”, he further said.
Prof. Narada Warnasuriya and Dr. Pushpika Ubesiri, two of the other council members who were dismissed, said that they will also be seeking legal redress over their removal in “contravention of the Medical Ordinance”.
Apart from them, the other two ‘Minister’s nominees’, as they are called, who were given the marching orders were Dr. Upul Gunasekara and Dr. Sunil Ratnapriya. However, there was still no word on the four new nominees of the Minister.
Under the Medical Ordinance, the serving Health Minister can name the president and four nominees to the 25-member council. Apart from the Minister’s nominees, the other members are drawn on the basis of one each (generally the Dean) from Faculties of Medicine, and other diverse medical spheres. The Director-General of Health Services is an ex-officio member.
The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has four elected representatives in the council – Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, Dr. Naveen de Zoysa, Dr. Nalinda Herath and Dr. Harris Pathirage. However, Dr. Pathirage has since resigned from the council citing personal reasons, GMOA Assistant Secretary, Dr. Chandana Dharmaratne said.
The SLMC election was on the cards but had to be put off indefinitely due to the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.
Though the Health Minister claimed that the dismissal of the SLMC president and the four nominated council members was based on the findings of the five-member committee appointed by her, that’s not the factual position, said Dr. L. A. Ranasinghe, president of the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS).
“Contrary to the Minister’s assertion in her letter to the SLMC president, personal communications we had with some of the committee members (Dr. Hemantha Perera and Dr. Anula Wijesundara) indicated that they had not singled out any member or the president in their report as responsible person/s for the deficiencies of the SLMC. Neither did they recommended the removal of anyone from the council”, he noted.
According to the committee members, the whole council is responsible for their decisions and actions and not individual members (similar to collective responsibility of Cabinet decisions), he explained.
As far as we know, there is no legal provision for the Minister to remove the SLMC president or any member according to his/her wishes without following the regulations stipulated in the Medical Ordinance, Dr. Ranasinghe remarked.
The process the Health Minister followed is completely flawed and purely based on the agenda of a trade union. This has created a very bad precedent that could be “the first step towards undermining the autonomy and independence of the SLMC”, which is tasked with the regulation of Sri Lanka’s medical profession, the AMS chief further said.
The SLMC is facing a crisis never witnessed in its recent history, he continued, while urging the Health Minister to reverse her decision immediately to avoid unnecessary turbulence in the field of medicine in this hour of dire need.
The five-member committee Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi appointed in September 2020 to “look into the activities of the SLMC” comprised Specialist Prof. Hemantha Perera, former Dean of the Ragama Medical Faculty, Specialist Prof. Prashantha Wijesinghe, Specialist Dr. Anula Wijesundera, Specialist Dr. Maithri Chandraratne and Specialist Dr. Dharshana Sirisena.
The Minister said at the time that the SLMC is an independent body established by a charter and its primary function is to maintain a quality medical service by protecting the rights of patients. The institution protects the quality of medical education and regulates physicians.
Under Section 15 of the Medical Ordinance, the president/council member is deemed to have vacated his post in the event of death, resignation, declared insolvent or bankrupt by a competent court, found guilty by a court of law, cancellation of medical registration, non-attendance of three consecutive board meetings or being away from the country for a period of one year or more, medical officials said.
“Whatever the reasons adduced, the crux of the matter here is that the present regime was not comfortable with a president and council that was appointed by former Health Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne under the UNP administration”, they claimed.
“The reality of the situation was that the incumbent Health Minister buckled under pressure from the GMOA to sack the SLMC president and the four nominated members”,
With the appointment of Prof. Vajira H. W. Dissanayake, the Dean of Colombo Medical Faculty, as the new SLMC president, the GMOA welcomed what it called the “restoration of the independence and dignity” of the statutory body.
GMOA Secretary, Dr. Senal Fernando charged that that former Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne interfered with the functions of the SLMC by appointing his henchmen to the council, which resulted in more than one thousand individuals, who failed all three subjects at the Advanced Level examination, being registered as doctors.
He further accused the SLMC of undermining medical education by striking out three recognized Russian universities from the list of foreign universities recognized by Sri Lanka. These higher seats of learning included the world-renowned Patrice Lumumba University, which admit Sri Lankan students for medical degrees.
Expressing dismay over the developments, the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) said that never in Sri Lanka’s history has a Health Minister of a government elected to power interfered with the SLMC in this manner by dismissing the nominees of the previous Minister.
Over the years, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Maithripala Sirisena and Rajitha Senaratne, as Health Ministers, respected the independence of the SLMC and the appointments made to it by their predecessors, says GMOF president, Dr. Rukshan Bellana.
They are trying to politicize the SLMC, he charged. “The incumbent Health Minister is giving into the dictates of the GMOA and lost her sense of direction as a result”.
President of the Public Service United Nurses Union, Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, said the Health Minister has no right to meddle with the SLMC, which is an independent regulatory body.
Members to the SLMC are nominated to the SLMC for a five-year term by an incumbent Health Minister and dismissing them before they complete their tenure violates the Medical Ordinance, the prelate noted.
He said that health services in the country have plunged to a new low so much so it is more apt to describe the Health Ministry as “Unhealthy Ministry”.
The mess in the health sector could have been prevented if there was at least a secretary with a backbone in charge of the ministry, he asserted.
The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) was established in 1998 as a statutory body. It replaced the former Ceylon Medical Council formed in 1924.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.