That tragic and unfortunate happening at Meethotamulla which brought death and destruction to a poverty-stricken part of the country’s capital during a festive occasion saw politicians of most hues avoid a visit to the scene but offer long-distance commiserations.  Whether it was the stench of death and debris that now seems so foreign to politicians [...]


Politicians heal thyselves and those doctors too


That tragic and unfortunate happening at Meethotamulla which brought death and destruction to a poverty-stricken part of the country’s capital during a festive occasion saw politicians of most hues avoid a visit to the scene but offer long-distance commiserations.  Whether it was the stench of death and debris that now seems so foreign to politicians enjoying the good life from the confines of Diyawanna Oya or consciences wracked with guilt for callously postponing a solution to what for years was clearly a crisis in the making, that kept most law makers in their newly-acquired limousines, a far distance from Meethotamulla would remain a topic of public debate.

At least it must be said of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he cut short his Vietnam visit to be at what has turned out to be the graveyard for several persons whose bodies are said to be buried in the debris. As we know he is a Colombo district MP and so it is in his ‘electorate’.

Mounting problem: Meethotamulla disaster scene

No doubt when parliament debates the avurudhu-day tragedy there could well be snide remarks at Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presence at the scene wearing a face mask. Those who wish to hide their own disgusting role in what has been a mounting problem will probably laugh at the prime minister for wanting to avoid the stench that those living in and around the area had been enduring for years as successive governments, ministers and bureaucrats simply looked the other way.

In defence of the prime minister it might be said that he was scheduled to make another visit to India to negotiate some controversial deals and he could not afford to be struck down with ill-health and some protection was necessary even if it was from the foul smell.  On the other hand all those responsible for putting this problem off should wear a large enough mask to hide their collective face in shame for letting it happen while time and money were spent on gratifying Colombo’s rich and some money-bags that fill party coffers in exchange for tenders and procurement contracts breaking all the promises of transparency, accountability and impartiality held out to the people.

But as they say these promises were made years ago and as far our leaders are concerned years seem like eons. Today’s rulers see these as pledges made in the Paleolithic age for nobody appears to remember such promises like clearing the garbage dump which sure looks huge but is a small matter to those who have bigger and more lucrative fish to fry, so to say, with hiring and charging for vehicles to dump or clear the rubbish.

While politicians were understandably but not unforgivably keeping a healthy political distance from the Meethotamulla mess that they themselves helped create over the years, there was another breed of avaricious and self-seeking individuals who were equally conspicuous by their absence.
What happened to those so-called medicine men of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) who are prepared to take to the streets at the mention of the word SAITM or the denial of a place for their children in schools and colleges of their choice? Where were these money-grabbers when the mountain of garbage was tumbling down on the dwellings of residents of the area and burying people?

Here are present-day witch doctors who loudly hail the free-education system under which they qualified to practice medicine. They should be in the forefront serving the populace that paid for the education which saw them through medical college and are now in state jobs, dictating conditions that other state-educated professionals are denied.
Whatever oath they took then seems to have been forgotten years later as they have now undertaken to serve Mammon instead of man and have abandoned the sick and infirm to pursue their selfish ends. Was the GMOA to which they owe allegiance and shout loudest in demanding perks and privileges which their elders never claimed or were entitled to, anywhere near the disaster site at the time of need.

It is of little concern if they were not ordered to provide assistance. It was surely their duty as doctors, especially from an association that makes the most outrageous claims for privileges, to help those in need of immediate medical assistance and later to do so voluntarily.
Where were they in that hour of need? Where else but in private hospitals or their own dispensaries or surgeries working for their own benefit having left their official jobs early to fill their pockets at the expense of needy patients. How many of the GMOA’s members living and working in and around Colombo volunteered to help the victims of the Meethotamulla disaster?

Could the GMOA which is quite adept at providing names of schools and the number of vacant places for their children to fill, shout themselves hoarse over SAITM and matters that are outside their purview provide the names of those who provided voluntary service in the post disaster period as more conscientious and caring people are wont to do?
How many times in recent years and months have members of the GMOA struck work, sometimes without notice or sufficient warning, abandoning their posts at hospitals and state medical institutions leaving patients in need of attention without medical care.

So our politicians and physicians, both paid for by the state, have a lot to answer for. To the public who are at the mercy of both it would seem that there is an unhealthy nexus between politicians and physicians for which the price is paid by a long suffering people.

Has this government ever invoked provisions of the Public Security Ordinance to crack down on errant medical men who have kept away from work at great inconvenience and expense to the public? If it has then we would sure like to know when since these so-called nightingales-in-trousers have struck work in different parts of the country at different times.
People have lost their patience with the obnoxious conduct of these stethoscope-wielders who are an insult to the medical profession which thankfully still has doctors who conscientiously perform their duties and responsibilities and are an honour and credit to their profession and the oath they took.

While pampering these men and women who have confronted the government on several occasions little or no action has been taken against them. However President Sirisena who not too long ago claimed he has a backbone seems to display it only when some poor citizens who have suffered humiliation, indignities and deprivation for years stand up in protest against all this mistreatment.
Just the other day President Sirisena used the Public Security Ordinance to declare certain services connected with the Meethotamulla tragedy essential and threatened violators with punitive action.
Yet no such action has been taken against doctors who abandoned their posts and duties and did not treat patients in need of medical attention? Why? Are some people, as Orwell observed, more equal than others? Are the moneyed professionals more important to the politicians than simple ordinary people to whom they turn only at voting time?
I vaguely recall that sometime in the 1980s President J.R. Jayewardene taught threatening doctors a lesson when he invoked the Essential Public Services Act of 1979 the night before the doctors were due to go on strike. The doctors capitulated under JR’s sudden move and that was that.
That Act states among other

(2) Where a person is convicted by any court for an offence under this Act, the court may, in addition to any other penalty that it imposes under subsection (1), make one or both of the following  orders:
(a) that all property, movable or immovable, of the person convicted shall be forfeited to the Republic;
(b) in any case where the person convicted is registered in any register

maintained under any written law as entitling such person to practise any profession or vocation, that the name of such person be removed from such register.
if the court is of opinion that there are sufficient grounds for the making of any such order.

Is the unhealthy connection between politician and state physician as seen in the government’s reluctance to act against striking or threatening doctors because politicians fear that one day they might well have to seek medical assistance and treatment from the very people against whom they have invoked the law for dereliction of professional responsibilities?
The president wields the law against the poor and deprived but not the provisions of the Essential Public Services Act which permit the courts to confiscate the property of those found guilty of violating the Act.
That is because the doctors have much to lose and so they are let off the hook despite the fact the doctors perform an essential public service which they are disrupting by their despicable behavior that is nothing but depravity on display.
I am not certain whether this is true or not but I remember reading somewhere that the Ministry of Disaster Management which should also have a responsible role like so many other ministries and institutions for the Meethotamulla fiasco had observed that the coffins used for the burial of some of the dead were of poor quality.

If the coffins take priority over the management of this disaster is it any wonder that people are fast losing faith in politicians and yahapalanaya.
Somebody writing to the media had suggested that the garbage should be deposited at Diyawanna Oya. That seems to me a non-starter. After all there is already so much garbage there. One would not want to over burden the place with more of the same and cause more environmental damage. It is already costing the State enough as it is.

Someone else suggested that government sends the garbage abroad like some countries send their nuclear waste elsewhere. That could be a good idea if we could convince foreign governments to accept the kind of rubbish that we send.
Some say that the UNP’s yahapalanites so imbued in globalisation and neoliberalism have already started the process sending some rubbish to foreign lands. Maybe the GSP Plus trade concession might be of help in this regard.
If that is so, as some claim, then the further such rubbish is kept away from the Sri Lanka diaspora in foreign lands until this waste is disposed of some day it might seem a poor approximation of a temporary solution to ridding the country of its rubbish by heaping it in somebody else’s backyard.

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