Not for the first time the intransigent GMOA has once again made a demand that no Government can fulfil without bringing in fresh legislation. And the question must arise whether the GMOA, knowing full well the limitations of a government’s summary power to rush new legislation through Parliament, has a hidden political agenda to create [...]


Nationalise SAITM, demands GMOA: But can Govt do it even if it wants to?


Not for the first time the intransigent GMOA has once again made a demand that no Government can fulfil without bringing in fresh legislation. And the question must arise whether the GMOA, knowing full well the limitations of a government’s summary power to rush new legislation through Parliament, has a hidden political agenda to create mischief and wreak discontent against the Sirisena administration to precipitate the downfall of the coalition government.

The first instance occurred in February when three days after the Court of Appeal had ordered the Sri Lanka Medical Council to register SAITM’s medical graduates, thus enabling them to practise as doctors. GMOA’s demand then was for the Government to intervene and take action to negate this judicial decision.

How can the president overturn a decision of the second highest court in the land? That would have to override a judgment issued by the second highest court in the land to a citizen who prayed before its altar for justice and received it in full measure. Of course, as the SUNDAY PUNCH commented on February 12th, “the president can overturn a decision of the courts by orchestrating members of his coalition government to rush through a bill in Parliament to render null and void the decision of the Appeal Court. But that’s a drastic measure. And would be an extremely short sighted one.

“If his government, that came to power with the pledge to restore confidence in the independence of the judiciary, now resorts to undermine the judgments of the courts to gain temporary political mileage merely to satisfy the political demands of a trade union that threatens strike action because the courts ruled against their wishes, it will be to open the flood gates to every trade union in this county to achieve their demands not through the temple of justice but through the rear door of political power simply by taking their objections to the street and threatening strike action. “
Thankfully the President didn’t go down that low road.

Since then the Government has made many proposals to resolve the SAITM crisis. All have been rejected by the GMOA. Even as Prabhakaran had remained nailed to intransigence with his Eelam or nothing’ demand so has the GMOA stayed transfixed at the altar of obduracy with their ‘nationalise SAITM or nothing’ hymn.

The GMOA’s newly-appointed Secretary Haritha Aluthge told a news conference on Monday that the GMOA and the students union demanded that SAITM be abolished or nationalised. Nothing else, nothing short of it will do. Whatever the platter of solutions served before it, will change their minds to call off their present strike campaign for good, echoing the words and sentiments of Tiger Chief Prabhakaran who held a similar attitude when he refused any sort of compromise and declared ‘nothing short of Eelam’ would do to make him give up his terrorist war.

Now for the second time the GMOA is asking the Government for the impossible. For under what law can SATM be nationalised?
But has the GMOA top brass ever considered whether the government can deliver nationalisation of SAITM in the manner the Biblical dancing Salome of a Thousand Veils asked Herod for John the Baptist’s head and immediately received it on a platter?

Once upon a time in the recent history of this country there was indeed a most pernicious piece of legislation called the Business Acquisition Act introduced in the seventies when Mrs. Bandaranaike’s SLFP was dancing the tango with N. M. Perera’s leftist LSSP. Under this law any business could be acquired by the government for any reason, on any pretext. Even Maradana’s Buhari Hotel, an eating joint that served roast chicken and biriyani was nationalised under this Act.

The Business Acquisition Act survived during the J. R. Jayewardene’s presidential period when open market capitalistic economy was back in style even though it acted a deterrent to entrepreneurship where any business could be taken over at the drop of a hat. But just a month before he retired from the presidency, perhaps JR realised the draconian way it could be used and how it could act as an inhibiting factor to both local and foreign investors and present business concerns, he had his government introduce legislation to have it repealed. Since then neither President Premadasa nor President Wijetunge nor President Chandrika nor President Rajapaksa ever took steps to reintroduce the draconian Business Acquisition Act.

That was the only law under which a private business could compulsory be taken over at a minister’s stroke of pen. And thankfully no law exists where the government can nationalise any private business. Land, yes: businesses, no. So the GMOA should explain how the government can abolish, acquire, take over, nationalise SAITM?

Today the government can intervene only if the owners agree. Dr. Neville Fernando agreed to hand over the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital to the Government. That’s the only way it could be done, even as he seems to have agreed to the Government proposal to keep him chairman, allow the government to bring in a new management team, go for a public listing on the stock exchange. That’s the only way it can be done. Voluntarily by the owner.

But even this proposal has been rejected out of hand by the GMOA. Their only refrain is to keep on harping ‘nationalise, nationalise, nationalise SAITM’.

It’s time the government enlightens the public why they cannot accede to the GMOA demand to nationalise SAITM. To have the legal power to nationalise SAITM would be to reintroduce the Business Acquisition Act as a new bill in Parliament and thereby turn off the foreign and local investment in the country and threaten the very stability of existing businesses in the country. No government can afford to do that in this enlightened day and age when even communist China and Russia have turned to capitalism as the gateway to their prosperity.

To the government’s credit, it has kept its door open to the GMOA so far. It has endeavored to resolve the SAITM crisis through dialogue. But when the GMOA asks for the impossible sun moon and stars can you blame the Government if, speaking through the cabinet spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, it states that it would entertain no more talks with the GMOA.

For isn’t it futile to talk with intransigence, to bang one’s head against a wall of obduracy and to know that whatever you do, nothing would come of it? And Lanka is not without its experiences. Successive governments welcomed dialogue with the LTTE to seek ways to address legitimate Tamil grievances. But Prabhakaran would settle for nothing less than Eelam’s creation, even as GMOA’s Padeniya will settle for nothing short of SAITM’s extinction.

GMOA to go for the kill over SAITM
Doctors’ terminal obsession over SAITM enters last stage as union warns: Countdown to do or die battle has begun
Eight years after the Tigers were vanquished in the Mullaitivu jungles; the scene of battle of another bloody terror war has now shifted to the sick wards of Lanka’s hospitals.

Even as Prabhakaran and his LTTE cadres used innocent civilians as hostages to win their demand to establish a separate state called Eelam and intransigently refused to shift their stance no matter the civilian casualties, the Doctor of Death and his GMOA cadres have declared war on the Government and announced they will not rest until they win their demand to destroy SAITM; and that they will not budge an inch from their intransigent stance, without a tosh for the patients’ pain and suffering, no matter the loss of innocent lives.

To hell with patients: Padeniya

Fortified no doubt by the fresh mandate granted unto him by the GMOA’s general membership – making all doctors who voted for him and his hit squad accessories before the fact – to lead the troops to battle by his reelection as GMOA president last week, Dr. Padeniya delivered his plans to continue with GMOA’s campaign of terror against the ailing masses on the poverty line and use them as human sacrificial goats, if need be, in order to achieve their one and only goal: the complete annihilation of SAITM.

Not even the dengue epidemic which claimed the lives of 200 last month alone could move their stony hearts to relent. Of course, they say that dengue patients will be attended but only the victims in government wards know of the dearth of doctors in government hospitals. It is another instance of their campaign of lies to camouflage their campaign of violence inflicted on poor patients by denial of medical treatment at the vital life saving hour.
On Thursday, Padeniya sidekick, the GMOA secretary Haritha Aluthge pompously announced GMOA plans to go for the kill over SAITM as if he was some sort of military commander at the gates of a besieged capital delivering an ultimatum to the enemy government.

Aluthge told the news conference that the GMOA’s Central Committee had unanimously authorised its executive committee to take a decision on the strike; and that the next couple of days would be crucial. Again, this time in the manner of some terrorist chief not wishing to reveal exact time and date of a terror strike for their dastardlyness to contain an element of surprise, he said: “Perhaps the strike will be launched today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. All I can say is that it will be very soon”

Proudly he confirmed that the GMOA’s rubber stamp Central Committee have unanimously agreed and authorized the Executive Committee to stage an nationwide indefinite strike. In other words, to do their worst against the poor; to deny medical treatment for the millions who come to government hospitals seeking their succour, seeking relief from pain and suffering: against the same poor who through, indirect taxation, paid for their government education and who still are their paymasters.

The GMOA’s Central Committee unanimously bestowing on them the unfettered power to deny indefinitely the suffering poor medical help in their hour of anguish was callously hailed as a supreme moment of Government doctors supreme power over the life and death of Lanka’s les miserable, a power to be used to feather their own nests by continuing their monopoly at state hospitals whilst simultaneously safeguarding their lucrative private channeled practice at private hospitals. And all because on January 31st this year, the Court of Appeal ordered the Sri Lanka Medical Council to register graduates of SAITM and thus enable 60 or so medical graduates to practise at Government hospitals.

Two days after the court of appeal judgment, medical college students launched a protest march in the city. This was no protest against the government for taking a political decision not to their liking which is legitimate in any democracy but a protest against the entire judiciary for daring to give an independent ruling not in their favour. An extra judicial exercise to coerce courts to rubber stamp their views. The ultimate affront and threat to law and order and to the majesty of the courts.

And when the protesters attempted to storm the barricades erected by the police to prevent them entering the road to the Presidential Secretariat, and the police had no alternative but to take recourse to tear gas and water cannon, the GMOA shouted blue murder and launched a street protest of their own the following day and a hospital strike the day after.

The street action was to protest the alleged police brutality against the medical college student protesters. The other was to boycott all hospitals island wide, save a few, leaving thousands of patients helpless and denied medical treatment and put at risk.
Purely because the Court of Appeal’s decision had not been in accordance with their own political agenda, the GMOA vowed to continue their strike campaigns in order to coerce the Government to raze SAITM to the ground.

The GMOA demanded the Government to overturn the Court of Appeal decision. But how could the Government do, short of bringing legislation in Parliament? Did the GMOA think that one phone call from Sirisena to their Lordships could do the trick?
Snubbed, they then decided to focus their stethoscopic guns on Lanka’s innocents: civilians struck down by illness and to hold them as hostages to force the Government to give into their one demand to abolish SAITM.

They then pursued their itinerary for pain and anguish to visit Lanka’s disease hit poor. Their strike weapon went mobile from province to province. The UVA province got the first dose on February 20th. On the 21st it was the turn of the South. On the 23rd it was the East and the North Central. On the 27th it was the North West and the Central Province. The caravan moved to Sabaragamuwa on March 1st followed by the GMOA’s Mara Devil arriving in Jaffna on the 2nd. And on March 3rd the GMOA’s misery train hit the buffers at the Western station. All nine provinces covered.
Then in the first week of April, even as the people waited to celebrate the Sinhala New Year, they staged a 24 hour nationwide strike on Friday the 7th April. But even before the strike ended, the Government caved in. It announced that it would take over the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital. But to no avail. The GMOA remained intransigent. The ogre wanted to swallow SAITM whole. Nothing else would do to sate its perverse craving but SAITM flesh and SAITM blood.

War on SAITM: Aluthge

Then at the eleventh night hour last Wednesday, they announced that they would be launching an indefinite nationwide hospital strike the following morn. The strike continued for nearly three days. By Friday the patients and their relations had come to the end of their tether and began to unleash their pent up anger over the doctors’ crass and heartless unconcern for the visibly sick and ailing. Perhaps the GMOA, in their stupendous arrogance, had never expected such a reaction and the following day they sought a meeting with the President to lay before him their demands. After the meeting, they called off the strike with the face saving excuse that the President had agreed to their demands giving the impression that they had won the battle.
But what were their demands that they claimed the President had agreed to and which the GMOA”s Secretary was to repeat on Thursday. According to him the four demands were

(1) Gazetting of minimum standards of medical education and legalizing technical report of the Sri Lanka Medical Council
(2) Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella to inform court that the SAITM has not received SLMC approval
(3) Suspension of enrolment
(4) Suspension of awarding degrees and
(5) Setting up a committee to address the grievances of those studying there subject to SLMC approval.

Now consider the statement issued last Sunday by the Presidential office.
As far as the first demand it said: “As the minimum standards of medical education should be ensured under the law and expeditiously gazette the minimum standards of medical education.”
As far as the second demand it said: “Informing the government’s position about the SAITM, to the Supreme Court.”
As far as demands 3, 4 and 5 the President’s statement said: Formation of current courses of SAITM is according to a method accepted by the SLMC and forming a system to register the degrees which have already been offered.

The Presidential statement went even as far to state that: ‘No institute and person should influence the autonomy and the impartiality of Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC).” Which served to raise eyebrows whether the President’s statement was attempting to oust the jurisdiction of the courts to tender opinion on the exclusive right of the SLMC to decide whom to register and whom to reject?

But even this conciliatory gesture on the President’s part was not good enough for the GMOA hierarchy. They issued a statement alleging that the statement issued by P. B. Abeykoon, Secretary to President Maithripala Sirisena, has violated the agreement they reached with the President and used this as the foundation to launch an indefinite strike in the very near future. The GMOA wanted SAITM dead, full stop. And why? According to GMOA‘s secretary Aluthge: “We want to safeguards the patients’ right to live’.

Funny way of achieving that, isn’t it? Tell that to the patients Dr Aluthge. But – in view of the patients anger erupting during last week’s indefinite strike – not before ensuring that there is a doctor on call not on strike at the accident ward.

If the nation holds with abhorrence a small group of men in saffron robes going around the countryside making hate speeches against the minority Muslims and urges the government to crackdown on those bigots for their criminally irresponsible actions, with how much more repugnance should the masses hold 17,000 doctors announcing plans boldly in public to indefinitely put millions of the nation’s citizens of all denominations on death row by denying them their right to medical treatment merely to realise their vested interests? Suddenly these merciless doctors, once the angels of mercy now demons of death, have become the scum of Lanka’s soil.

Cluster bombing SAITMThe South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine, better known by its acronym SAITM is made up of five faculties, namely, The Faculty of Engineering, the Faculty of ICT and Media, the Faculty of Management and Finance, the Faculty of Behavioral Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine.
So when the GMOA demands the abolishment or nationalisation of SAITM, purely to prevent graduates from its medical faculty from being registered as doctors at the Sri Lanka Medical Council on the orders of the Court of Appeal, wonder what will be the fate of the students of the other four faculties.
But perhaps the GMOA, who doesn’t give a tosh for their patients, cannot be expected to give a fig leaf over the fate of youth studying at the same institute in their respective faculties which are not at issue. Perhaps it’s another instance of GMOA’s cluster bombing campaign with scant regard to innocent civilian casualties?


Foreign docs conundrum
On Monday former ambassador to Italy and senior lawyer Hemantha Warnakulasuriya PC roasted the GMOA on a television chat show, Sirasa ‘Pathikada’ anchored by Bandula Jayasekera, and alleged that the GMOA had been aggressively pursuing a political agenda and was functioning as a cat’s paw of political elements hell-bent on undermining the government,

With the country facing the bleak prospect of an indefinite doctors’ strike he called upon the government to take tough action to meet the GMOA challenge. He even had a proposal to make. He urged the government to bring down 5,000 Indian doctors to tame the GMOA, in the manner the Indian Peace Keeping Force had been brought down from India and deployed in the North to fight the Tigers. He said: “Sri Lanka could depend on Indian doctors. They could be brought down under an agreement with India and deployed across the country.”

On Tuesday, the government took up his suggestion for discussion and cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told the media that there was a proposal to bring foreign doctors as the GMOA resorted to frequent ‘politically motivated’ protests, causing immense suffering to patients but that no decision had been taken on the matter.

It may sound ideal on paper but is it practical. Can foreign doctors brought down en masse fill the shoes of home grown doctors? They might have all the professional qualifications which even the SLMC will not object to and be able to tend a superior medical service.
Except for one thing. They do not know the language. Imagine 5000 Indian doctors serving in Government hospitals trying to find out the patients’ complaints in a lingo alien to their ears, beyond their comprehension? They might well have some attendant armed with a smattering of English but even if they are lucky enough to have such linguistic help can they be sure? For when it comes to translating, there can be many a slip between the brain and the lip. And the end result may probably be to end up with the wrong diagnosis and prescribing the wrong medicine.

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