Letter to the editor I write to add an accountant’s point of view to the excellent letter written by Dr Miran Salgado in February, friend and connection by marriage.  I could not have entered medical or engineering school in Sri Lanka so like many students of the 1970s. I fell in to accountancy Before the [...]

Sunday Times 2

SAITM, GMOA or a Marie Biscuit – let the consumer who carries risks make the choice


Letter to the editor
I write to add an accountant’s point of view to the excellent letter written by Dr Miran Salgado in February, friend and connection by marriage.  I could not have entered medical or engineering school in Sri Lanka so like many students of the 1970s. I fell in to accountancy

Before the establishment of the Sri Lanka Institute of Chartered Accountants (SLICA) in 1959  Chartered accounting in Sri Lanka was open only to those able to travel and study in Britain. However entry was open to a few who knew an accountant and could pay a premium of Rs 2,000. The profession was tightly controlled by a band of accountants. In hindsight I place them on par with grave robbers and the GMOA. It protected their monopoly and stunted the growth of the economy, the accounting profession and employment opportunities

In the late 1960s The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants UK (now CIMA) offered its examinations to Sri Lankan students. Suddenly there was another institute that offered a different stream of entry in accounting much like SAITM and the medical profession. CIMA did not artificially control pass rates like the SLICA did. The drawbacks of CIMA for Sri Lankans were exams being in English and the higher cost.
The SLICA grew slowly till the 1970s. By the 1970s CIMA was the more popular qualification. Around 1973, Felix Dias Bandaranaike as Minister of Finance steamrollered his way (as usual) and forced the SLICA to change its methods and expand the number of accounting students being trained annually from about 50 to over 1000, and to conduct the exams in Tamil and Sinhala.  In 1976, I as an old scheme student was opposed to the change. After moving to NZ where opportunity is not so controlled, I realised that limiting economic opportunity by establishing guilds was taking place from 1096 AD in England. Charters, monopolies belong to history. In the 21st Century monopolies and controls breed revolutions that sustain the Wijeweeras and Prabhakarans.

I have no desire to denigrate doctors. But after being an accountant for 40 years and have obtained qualifications from three professional accounting bodies, I have given up two of them realising that the difference between professional qualifications is marginal and in the marketing. Much like the Mercedes Maybach for the President and a Maruti for us, they do the same job.  The “professional standards hum bug “is to me marketing which professional bodies carry out to attract students and customers.

Marketing is an economic activity. According to one definition, a market is “a medium that allows buyers and sellers of a specific good or service to interact in order to facilitate an exchange at prices mutually agreed on. Accounting and medical services, in spite of the hype, also fall within that definition. New Zealand is a relatively deregulated market, especially for accounting. One does not need a qualification to be an accountant — mainly because many see “qualifications” as an artificial monopoly. The chartered accountants controlled the market in NZ until CPA Australia invaded its shores in 2013. The medical profession in NZ is more controlled but market forces are disrupting it.
The NZ dentists were exorbitant until a few years ago when it became cheaper to travel to Thailand, have your teeth cleaned and have a holiday as well for similar prices.  Many accountants and bankers have been replaced by computers.  Doctors –GMOA, SAITM or other — will hang up their stethoscopes when IBM’s Watson super computer gets operational.

What made me write this letter is to highlight only one example of the GMOA monopoly and the consequence of it — the shortage of doctors — is a grave injustice.
In about 2005, due to a chest pain I was advised to channel a heart specialist at Nawaloka hospital. The only time he was available was 9.30 PM. I sat down opposite the man and after a few words he wanted to examine my heart beat – I guess?  My heart beat certainly went up when this sorry spectacle of a human, looking more tired than coal miner, leaned forward and placed his Neck- tie on my chest.  I removed myself as fast as I could from Dr Jekyll’s presence and consulted a friend’s father who had retired and so lived to write this letter. It’s well known that doctors work inhuman hours at the channel offices and thus put their patients at risk. The same doctors would go on strike if requested to work the same hours in a state hospital.

My conclusion is: We are the consumers, the hapless spectators of this farce being enacted for us to protect an unfair monopoly by a bunch of overrated, molly coddled university graduates, protecting their patch. In Sri Lanka obtaining an MBBS or BSc depends merely on the cut off point in the year of admission.

The Buddha said Aroghya Parama Labha – Health is the greatest wealth. (Dhammapda 204). Some doctors in Sri Lanka have perverted the saying to Ill health is the source of greatest wealth.
The Government should legislate to allow SAITM to flourish, free up the market, and remove the channel practice option and duty free cars. Let the doctors who want to serve the people work in Government service or as General practitioners in the countryside. Let those who think they are competent go into full time Specialist private practice without the benefit of a government support and buy vehicles at market prices, as all other citizens do. Politicians excepted.
These doctors can’t go elsewhere – their qualifications are not accepted in most countries. True there will be difficulties for a while but we cannot live under the threat of the Stethoscope and Scalpel Trade Union for ever.
The Government does not decide a consumer’s choice between a CIMA accountant and a SLICA accountant. Neither does the Government dictate to us whether to buy a Maliban biscuit or a Munchee biscuit.  So give us the customer, choose death or deliverance and buy from a GMOA, SAITM, Ayurveda, Homeopathy or a Kattadiya shop. All sell the same product different labels.

- Priyan Rajapaksa

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