Doctor heal thyself and put patients before perks Recent news in the print and electronic media regarding the role played by the GMOA with regard to the economic affairs of this country, private medical education, the clamour for ‘perks’ unavailable to the ordinary citizen makes for dire reading. The GMOA has in the past been [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Doctor heal thyself and put patients before perks

Recent news in the print and electronic media regarding the role played by the GMOA with regard to the economic affairs of this country, private medical education, the clamour for ‘perks’ unavailable to the ordinary citizen makes for dire reading. The GMOA has in the past been respected for its historical role in maintaining standards of medical care, which it has championed and improved the working conditions of doctors and dentists. Patients have been protected and doctors supported. It has also to date played a role in maintaining ethical and moral standards of the profession along with the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC).

Currently, the reputation of the profession among the citizens of Sri Lanka is in tatters. They are considered to be money-grabbing, lazy, uncaring and not particularly competent. The chattering classes who have heard about the GMOA blame the organisation. The citizenry has in the main never heard of them and therefore just blames doctors in general. This can only be rectified if the GMOA returns to its core functions and works with the SLMC which has the responsibility of registering doctors who satisfy the requirements, academic and otherwise for such recognition. Both bodies have a responsibility to put patients first.

Let me elucidate on the above. The current spat regarding the ETCA over which the GMOA seems bent on confronting the government, is futile. The GMOA clearly has no idea of economic needs, the role of markets or political exigencies. The central issue seems to be the concept that Indian doctors will flood Sri Lanka! Untrue.  I am hoping that this line is not being pushed by paranoia and bigotry. Our doctors in the latter part of the last century did not like it when they were subjected to restrictions on registration when they went to countries such as Britain. They did not like the introduction of exams such as PLAB or being called ‘wogs’ and ‘Pakis’.

Having said that the SLMC should introduce a ‘registration exam’ for graduates from overseas or indeed private medical schools such as SAITM in this country. There is however, a need to recognize that the Faculties of Medicine in this country are of a variable standard. Colombo and Peradeniya are well endowed, relatively speaking, with academic and teaching staff. There is little research in spite of a wealth of clinical material. The other Universities and Faculties of Medicine are woefully inadequate both in numbers and quality of staff. There are few Professors of various departments outside the major two centres. There is a severe shortage of doctors to man the government hospitals out in the sticks. However, that is where most of our population live.  Many life-threatening diseases such as chronic kidney disease and dengue would be treated early if our people could get to a doctor. Our government doctors want to gravitate to the large cities in search of the filthy lucre. They want to do it while staying in government service for the sake of their ‘pension’ and perks such as free ‘car permits’.

Taking the last point, it is reasonable to get rid of such perks for all. Highly qualified professions such as doctors and Members of Parliament should be recognized for their wish to serve the people. Their salaries should reflect such commitment. Such a move would have the effect of lowering the car tax for all and may well increase the revenue from taxation. Government hospitals could offer to give places to students from private medical schools at a fee. Such an income stream could be used to improve the hostel facilities for junior medical staff etc.

In short, the SLMC should regulate the registration criterion for doctors wishing to practise in Sri Lanka and the GMOA return to its core values of improving the working conditions and remuneration (a pittance) of the medical profession putting the needs of the patient at the heart of it.

Ravi Perumalpillai
Via email

The valueless Sri Lankan Cent

There was a time when the Sri Lankan cent coin had more metal value than its purchasing power but that was more than half a century ago.  Over the years, it has depreciated in value and at the present time the cent has absolutely no purchasing power.  It is also difficult to find the coin since it is not in circulation.  The only function it has is for accounting purposes. Yet, the Sri Lankan currency system retains the cent as one unit of currency.  It is time that the cent is officially demonetized and the rupee declared as the only unit of Sri Lankan currency.

In the prevailing retail business practice, even the rupee coin has no purchasing power.  Due to the limited circulation of the rupee coin or otherwise, no retailer or service provider gives back a rupee for change.  Some even do not give a two rupee coin as change.  The practical quantum of most retail transactions is now five rupees.  Even government institutions and transport and other service providers where money transactions are made do not in most instances give back any change if it is less than five rupees.  They do not even say there is no change and take it for granted that they can keep the change.

Retailers and service providers also have the habit of fixing prices for example at Rs. 199, 299, 399 etc. and always take one rupee extra. In other countries, when a consumer purchases something from a vendor or pays for services from a service provider, he or she will get the exact change however small it is.  Otherwise, it is considered as cheating the customer.  As a business practice it is wrong and unethical.

Considering the number of such transactions taking place island-wide on a daily basis, the retailers, government institutions at central and local levels, transport providers etc. are making millions of unaccounted and unrecorded rupees each day from helpless consumers.  It is time that this practice is stopped.

For the benefit of all consumers in the country, I would like to bring this situation publicly to the attention of the Minister of Finance and the authorities under his ministry and request de-monetization of  the cent and declaration of the rupee as the single unit of currency in Sri Lanka.  I further request the relevant authorities to increase the circulation of one and two rupee coins so that vendors and service providers will not use the unavailability of coins as the excuse for not returning the exact change.  I also request the relevant authorities to enforce the practice of fair trade.

A. W. Jayawardena
Mt. Lavinia

Tragedy on rail track highlights fate of our jumbos

A passenger train hit and killed an elephant and three calves in northern Sri Lanka on August 17, the latest deadly accident involving the venerated animals.

What a tragic incident. We are a country trying to develop tourism.

The herd was walking across a newly upgraded railway line that runs through a jungle area when the accident occurred at Cheddikulam in Vavuniya. One of the baby elephants was dragged about 300 metres along the track after being hit by the train.

The track in the jungle was made by humans and not by elephants. Was it a correct move?

Have we taken any precautions to protect the animals? We are only worried about our facilities and our comforts. We want to watch wild animals for entertainment and to earn money from tourists.

We have seminars about animal protection and animal rights. We write books on elephants in Sri Lanka. But this is the ground situation.

What are our politicians, wildlife directors and experts doing?

Since either side of the track where the incident occurred is straight, the driver could have seen clearly that the herd of elephants was crossing the track.

Two weeks ago another elephant and her calf were knocked down by the train at Medawachchiya.

Although elephants are considered sacred by the people of Sri Lanka, and are legally protected, nearly 200 are killed every year.

Many elephants are killed by farmers when the elephants stray into their land.

Our elephant population was 12,000 in 1900. At present it has gone down to 7000.

The Railway Department has requested the Wild Life Department to deploy a wild life officer to travel in the engine who will assist the engine driver to slow down at frequent elephant passes. But nothing has happened so far.

Where are the animal lovers? We preach to be compassionate to all beings.

A newspaper report says that there was no damage to the train. The delay was only few minutes. So they are happy about the situation.

Let us get together and try to protect our wildlife.

D. Weeratunga

Thank you, Yahapalanaya, Independent Police Commission and media

Sri Lankans overseas salute the endurance of Yahapalanaya in the recent appointment of Senior DIG M.R. Latiff as Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF). We watched with increasing concern, as the forces of evil appeared to smother good governance with the unexplained delay in executing Mr. Latiff’s appointment as Head of STF. In the end, Yahapalanaya swept aside political pressure and paved the way for Mr. Latiff to take over duties as Commandant of the STF. This would have never come to pass in the age of the white vans.

We are proud of Yahapalanaya for conceding that the Rule of Law must finally prevail and that eradicating corruption requires an officer of moral integrity at the helm. We are grateful to the independent Police Commission for recognizing the quality and professionalism of police officers and for giving precedence to one who symbolizes honour and integrity. We are impressed by conventional and social media for their dogged determination to ensure Yahapalanaya prevails, first, by exposing the suppression of Mr. Latiff’s appointment, then by relentless follow-up, until justice prevailed. Hats off to freedom of expression and an independent media.

Above all, we are proud that national security interest has risen above parochial racist attitudes to give due place to a noble son of Sri Lanka. Those of us who have been privileged to know Mr. Latiff and to work alongside him in fighting terrorism in the international arena, are proud of the respect he commands at a global level for professionalism, strategic thinking and impactful action.

Late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, being a man of honour and integrity recognized the value of Mr. Latiff and singled him out to place on his shoulders significant responsibility of national security interest. Had Mr. Kadirgamar lived, Mr. Latiff’s professional life would have soared to incredible heights.

We hope Yahapalanaya will continue supporting Mr. Latiff to fulfil his responsibilities to Sri Lanka in fighting corruption. We believe in the promise given to the people of Sri Lanka in January 2015, and pray that the Rule of Law will always triumph over lawlessness and corruption.

Rajika Jayatilake

Provincial Councils: A big black mark on our country

Y. Dharmasena’s article headlined ‘Sri Lanka does not need a Provincial Council system’ (the Sunday Times of July 31) will definitely be an eye opener for the majority Sri Lankans. This is an idea which had been pricking my mind for a long time. I hope the educated law-abiding citizens will respond to this through organised debate.

Sri Lanka is a small island nation, much smaller than most of the provinces of India or the United States. This Provincial Council system which was forced on us has not brought any benefit or value to this country. Most Provincial Councils made the country a laughing stock with what they said or did. It is like maintaining separate parliaments in each province.

When considering the cost of running these councils — the buildings, staff salaries and other facilities of members plus the financial frauds they create, it is a great insult to the taxpayers whose hard earned money is so badly degraded.

The conduct of the majority of politicians is paving the way for a low grade future for the younger generation. We see this at Provincial Council meetings. May be they are following their leaders using uncivilised language, getting on to the chairs and tables fighting like cats and dogs physically and verbally.

They appear before the voters like heroes who have done great deeds. Unfortunately some people do not understand the difference between an educated decent person and a thug who goes in a limousine immaculately dressed in white. Sensible people know that they are black inside and that they use black money.

A reader
Via email

Action not slogans the need of the hour

Instead of slogans about keeping the city clean the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) together with its army of uniformed inspectors should get down to doing their job properly!

Some on duty in the area I live in keep on harassing the community dogs which are the responsibility of the Veterinary Department.

Dustbins fixed to lamp posts by a company in Colombo 8 and 9 have no bottoms, but no one is bothered. These have been in disrepair for over a year.

The drains too in this area are not systematically silted, ad hoc cleaning is insufficient. Children scatter bottles and other litter all over the streets and these block the drains. School heads should advise them during morning assembly, if they do have assembly.

Tudor Wickremasinghe
Colombo 9

Illegible prescription handwriting amounts to medical negligence

It is incompatible with medical ethics and the Hippocratic oath when prescriptions are scribbled illegibly.

These prescriptions pose occupational hazards to pharmacists. Reading them is akin to trying to decode a coded jargon.

Many prescribers have dispensed with the traditional Latin abbreviations on prescriptions and replaced them with a variety of novel abbreviations innovated by them. These deserve clarity of letters and words.

Very often pharmacists either contact the prescribers on the phone or refer prescriptions back to them for clarification. These references are obliged or resented.

Patients have a right to have readable prescriptions; pharmacists claim their right to have legibly written prescriptions to dispense correctly to avoid prosecution for dispensing negligence.

Mervyn Burrows

Golden memories and silver tears

Olivia de Havilland plays Melanie Wilkes in a scene from the 1939 Hollywood epic “Gone With the Wind” ©HO (HO/AFP/File)

The story about Olivia de Havilland, the iconic Hollywood actress celebrating her 100th birthday published in the Sunday Times in July was a breath of fresh air to us old film buffs giving us a moment to savour memories of those golden days of cinema.

Yet, the article failed to mention her greatest regret, when she was denied the Best Actress Oscar for her stirring performance as a mentally ill writer confinued to an asylum in “The Snake Pit”, despite The New York Critics and the National Board of Review awarding The Best Actress awards to her for the same role.

Had she won she would have entered the record books as the first actress to receive three Academy Awards. Katherine Hepburn achieved the feat some 20 years later.

Asoka Weerakoon



From Chilcot Report to Sri Lanka’s hidden reports

The Chilcot Report on Britain’s role in the Iraq war was released on July 7.  The commission took seven years to produce the report running into more than 2,000 pages with more than one million words and an executive summary.  The commission was appointed in 2009 though Britain joined the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.

On the same day the report was out, the House of Commons met and the report was debated. It appeared that most of the MPs came to Parliament after reading the executive summary. The then Prime Minister David Cameron began the debate with an extensive account on the report and the Opposition Leader responded, paving the way for other MPs to participate in the debate. While the Prime Minister assured that necessary action would be taken on the findings, the Opposition Leader assured his co-operation.  Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who took the decision to go to war, gave his comments the next day.

The Chilcot report cost the British taxpayer 11 million pounds — Rs. 2.2 billon in our currency.

Although we claim to follow British Parliamentary traditions and quote Erskine May every now and then, we do not see such healthy debates in our Parliament after the release of a report by an independent commission.

In Sri Lanka we have seen the appointment of many commissions, but depending on the findings and the people involved, many reports have been swept under the carpet.

One such report we look forward to read is the Welikada prison riot commission report. We want to know why this report has still not been published.

Via email

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