The so-called ‘final’ solution to the saga of the private South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) announced on Thursday has raised a hornet’s nest. What is in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), asked many sources, questioning why it has not been made public or [...]


More questions than answers over ‘final’ solution to SAITM issue


The so-called ‘final’ solution to the saga of the private South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) announced on Thursday has raised a hornet’s nest.

What is in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), asked many sources, questioning why it has not been made public or presented to the main groups involved in the SAITM issue. Stakeholders involved in the process but have had no access to the MOU urged that its content should be made public so that it can be looked at in-depth.

This follows a press release titled ‘Government resolves issues on abolishing SAITM’ issued by the Director-General (DG) of Government Information, Sudharshana Gunawardana, on January 4 which states that an MOU has been signed with SLIIT on December 30, 2017.

The release states that the nine-member committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena was tasked with implementing the steps outlined in the Presidential Communiqué of 29.10.2017, which provided the following solution to the crisis: “The abolition of SAITM in a manner legally acceptable to the current shareholders, lending institutions and the new entity interested in taking over all operations and management of SAITM, via the transferral of all SAITM’s assets, liabilities, staff and students to a non-state, not-for-profit degree awarding entity that complies with the Minimum Standards on Medical Education and Training.

“The legal process to carry this out will require the creation of two separate entities, both in compliance with the Minimum Standards.”

· A new not-for-profit ‘sunset’ institution that will absorb all students who were in SAITM’s medical programme, as well as its assets and liabilities; at which point SAITM will be abolished. The sunset institution will conclude operations when the last current batches of students graduate. No new students will be admitted to this entity.

· A not-for-profit ‘sunrise’ institution that will start accepting new students from 2019.

A spokesperson for the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) was categorical that it is crucial for all stakeholders to study the MOU with SLIIT.

The AMS had attended the three meetings of the nine-member Harsha de Silva Committee since its appointment by President Sirisena, in the capacity of ‘Observers’.

The other ‘Observers’ had included the State Medical Students’ Parents’ Association, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), the Federation of Faculty of Medicine Teachers’ Association (FFMTA) and the SAITM Students’ Parents’ Association.

While there was consensus that justice needs to be done for the students of SAITM, there was division of opinion on how this would be achieved, it is learnt.

Explaining the situation with regard to the SAITM students, the AMS spokesperson said that they can be put into two groups – those who have acquired a SAITM degree, amounting to 84 graduates and those in the other batches of SAITM.

With regard to the 84 graduates, it was agreed that the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) would have to decide what extended training they require as well as what extended assessments were needed for them before they were granted provisional registration, the AMS spokesperson said.

The Sunday Times understands that the division of opinion arose with regard to the other batches of SAITM, with the AMS taking the stand that they should be absorbed into the fee-levying arm of the Kotelawela Defence University, while some of the other observers held a different view that they should be attached to state medical faculties. The Harsha de Silva Committee had come up with the option of non-state, not-for-profit private medical institution.

It is in this light that a representative of the State Medical Students’ Parents’ Association accused Dr. Harsha de Silva of going back on his promises to them when he asked them to stop their fast unto death at the ‘attale’ (hut) opposite the Dental Hospital on Ward Place on November 8.

“This is not what was agreed on,” he said, adding that the ‘sunset’ and ‘sunrise’ mechanism is eye-wash to continue with the government’s agenda for SAITM.
The State Medical Students’ Parents’ Association is due to meet today to decide on their future course of action, which would be very strong and would even entail resuming the fast unto death, he said.

Adding their voice to the protests, a GMOA spokesperson said that they strongly believe that the government has a “hidden agenda”.

Chaired by National Policies and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, the other members of the committee were Health Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa; Higher Education Ministry Secretary D.C. Dissanayake; University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Mohan de Silva; SLMC President Prof. Colvin Goonaratna; Colombo University Vice Chancellor Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake; Sri Jayewardenepura University Vice Chancellor Prof. Sampath Amaratunga; Colombo Medical Faculty Dean Prof. Jennifer Perera; and Ragama Medical Faculty Dean Prof. Nilanthi de Silva.

The Sunday Times was unable to contact Dr. Harsha de Silva or Government Information DG Mr. Gunawardana for a comment up to the time of going to press.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times understands that there have been heated arguments within the SLMC over the recommendations by a sub-committee with regard to the time and specialty clinical training that the SAITM graduates should undergo before they are given SLMC registration.

“The sub-committee recommendations came under fire as initially they had included only eight months clinical training in Medicine, Paediatrics, Surgery and Obstetrics & Gynaecology, with the students having to undergo eight weeks (two months) training in each of these specialties. But they had not considered the other important subjects of Accident Service, Psychiatry, Community Medicine and Forensic Medicine,” a source said.

Another source added that it was ironic that the SLMC’s sub-committee had come up with such a diluted training programme after being critical that the SAITM students’ clinical training was very poor.

Many within the SLMC, the Sunday Times understands, have also urged for a strong and thorough assessment scheme to be set down by the SLMC, for these SAITM graduates before they are considered for provisional registration which would enable them to begin their internships.

(The press release, ‘Government resolves issues on abolishing SAITM’ from the Director-General of Government Information on January 4)

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