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Health Minister A. H. M. Fowzie and the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) are on a collision course again over a move to ban private practice for doctors in state service.
Minister Fowzie said he was determined to get the proposal approved and would offer incentives and concessions to doctors who want to leave government service and do private practice or set up their own clinics.
The Minister also said that he has found at least 50 jobs for doctors in Malaysia, and applications are being received. "The government will make necessary arrangements and also grant leave, for them to go and work there," he said.
"I am confident that we have enough doctors to work in government hospitals with 1200 new doctors passing out each year."
GMOA President Ananda Samarasekera told ''The Sunday Times' that if the Cabinet approved this proposal the general public and the patients would be greatly affected as it would restrict the services of doctors beyond office hours and on call duty.
Mr. Fowzie said this move which was on the agenda for more than two months, had to be taken to enhance the Health Services in Sri Lanka.
"We found that many doctors are either idling at government hospitals or not in service and we don't want this to happen anymore, and as an alternative we will relieve them permanently from government service and allow private consultancy," he said.
He said as a result, more private channelling centres, clinics and hospitals could be set up thus broadening the Health Services, with the ultimate aim of creating a ratio of one doctor for 500 people. "We are ready to give sufficient support to set up any such projects if they come forward with such proposals."
Mr. Fowzie added that nearly 1200 doctors pass out each year, who should be given appointments and that the present congestion of doctors in urban area hospitals prevent it. However he feared that the doctors in service would not leave government service, which was pensionable and carried other privileges.
But the GMOA has different ideas and they will want to continue to be both in the government and private services. This they say has been a practice for many long years, and that it cannot be abolished overnight by a Cabinet decision.
Dr. Samarasekera said, "According to the plan doctors will be banned from even treating patients who come to see them at home or other places. This shows the absurdity of the issue." He said, Sri Lanka now has one doctor to 6000 people.
Dr. Samarasekera noted that the cadre requirement at government hospitals has risen to 1600, over the last few years and was hardly filled by the government. "The situation being thus we, the GMOA think that this is a sweet revenge by Mr. Fowzie over the continuous disputes with us."
"If the qualified medical officers are not allowed private consultancy the government will have to be responsible for patients who will go after the 35,000 quacks spread around the country," he said.
The GMOA also alleged that they were not given a chance to express their views on this important issue where the entire GMOA membership, is involved, which constitutes more than 95 per cent of government doctors working in the hospitals.
Dr. Samarasekera said that this move was proposed even during the '50s, '60s, and the '70s but, only earned the displeasure of doctors and patients. Meanwhile several leading private hospitals, which employ government doctors, were tight lipped on this issue as they wouldn't want to commit themselves.
Livestock Minister Soumiamoorthy Thondaman yesterday said he was unhappy that his proposal to increase the buying price of milk from local producers has not been implemented.
Mr. Thondaman told ''The Sunday Times' that he had suggested that the purchase price of fresh milk from local farmers be upped by Rs. 6 per litre. This was approved, but not implemented because Trade Minister Kingsley Wickramaratne had objected to it.
Mr. Thondaman added that an increase in price would boost the local milk industry. The farmers who are now paid only Rs. 12.50 on average, which includes a two rupee increment given at the beginning of this year, spend as much as Rs. 15 on production, thus incurring a loss.
He alleged that Mr. Wickramaratne had explained to the President that the local milk industry does not have the capacity to collect the massive quantity of milk which is expected to come into the market when a price hike is given.
"Local companies have enough facilities to collect all the milk sold to them by local farmers; in fact, Sri Lanka doesn't have enough milk to cater to local needs," said Thondaman and added that the prices of imported milk have gone up considerably from Rs. 60.75 in 1995 to a high of Rs. 84 now.
Chris F. Moore, General Manager New Zealand Milk Products, told 'The Sunday Times' that even though the price of powdered milk is to remain static for some years, local prices are likely to go up owing to the rupee's fall against the US dollar.
Thondaman stressed that, if Sri Lanka were to become self-reliant in milk, the Rs. 6 increment should be given without any further delay, as a first step. But Mr. Wickramaratne said that all this could be done when the joint venture between India and Sri Lanka comes through.
Meanwhile, the government is considering whether to waive the 10 per cent import duty in a bid to bring down the prices of milk powder. Chris Moore said that even if the duty is waived, the resultant reduction will be almost a rupee per 100 grams of milk powder, but this too is likely to go up with inflation.
Minister Wickramaratne said that until the joint venture between the Dairy Development Board of India and MILCO comes through, the crisis will continue, but added that the public will have an option to buy Amul milk powder, under the Highland Red Label for a low price of Rs. 65.
The UNP will move a vote of no-confidence on Minister of Power and Energy Anuruddha Ratwatte shortly on the controversial Trincomalee Coal Fired 2 x 150 MW power plant.
According to a government note dated March 22, 1996, the Ministers had met on March 13 and approved a proposal by the Minister of Irrigation Power and Energy on the Trincomalee Coal Fired 2 x 150 MW power plant subject to observations made by the Finance Minister to appoint a government approved tender board to negotiate with Barclay Mowlem Construction Ltd. Australia.
The Ministers also decided that if negotiations are successful a letter of intent should be issued to this company and if not call for fresh proposals.
The tender board approved by the government was as follows:
Secretary to the President or his representative (Chairman)
Secretary, Ministry of Irrigation, Power and Energy and Secretary to the Treasury or his representative.
Meanwhile, ''The Sunday Times' learns that a decision has already been made to award the tender to Barclay Mowlem, Australia, amidst allegations of kickbacks.
Suspected terrorists set fire to two bungalows in the Yala National Park and escaped prompting a massive search operation in the jungles yesterday morning, police said.
The Tissamaharama police said the bungalow-keepers were ordered by the attackers to vacate the premises and the houses were set on fire. A spokesman for the Wild Life Department said there were 12 tourists in one of the bungalows, but the terrorists had allowed them to leave unharmed. He said one of the bungalows was set on fire at 10.30 p.m. on Friday and the other at midnight.
More than 150 policemen drawn up from stations in the area, backed by soldiers launched the search operation on suspicion that a small terrorist group may be operating in the Yala Park.
The attack on the bungalows came just two days after an armed group of about 50 men threatened villagers and shop-keepers along the Buttala - Kataragama Road and removed provisions.
Police said they strongly believe that this group may have removed provisions needed for a small camp around the area.
The Thalasmankade and Yala bungalows which came under attack, are located close to the eastern boundary of the park and the Menik Ganga. The first reports indicated that the attackers had come from a jungle area around Kataragama.
However, a Government announcement quoting Police Chief W.B. Rajaguru said there were no tourists in the bungalows.
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