Senior officers of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) like to feel they are a cut above the rest, so to say; that due to the marks they received at the A-Level exam and because they heal the sick, they are entitled to be treated preferentially by governments and society. While not all who got [...]


GMOA bows to saner counsel


Senior officers of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) like to feel they are a cut above the rest, so to say; that due to the marks they received at the A-Level exam and because they heal the sick, they are entitled to be treated preferentially by governments and society.

While not all who got good marks can enter the state Medical Colleges, or wish to do medicine, it seems it needed senior members of the clergy to knock some common sense into the senior members of the GMOA. An indefinite strike set to have begun last Wednesday on the lingering SAITM issue was called off at the 11th hour on account of an appeal from the clergy that a doctors’ strike in the midst of a continuing dengue crisis was “not on”. If it was not plain inhuman, it was criminal. Now, and only now, has the GMOA put forward a proposal for an Action Plan to tackle the dengue crisis. That, at last, will endear the doctors’ union to the people whose sympathy it is fast losing.

Arguably, the GMOA clearly wanted a face-saving mechanism to escape the rising wrath of the people at the endless trade union action perpetrated at their expense. The GMOA has hitched its whole agitation campaign that has spilled over to the streets and held patients hostage, over the issue of a solitary private institution awarding medical degrees.

The people seem to understand the GMOA’s frustrations, to a point, but not its actions. Strike action is supposed to be the last resort of any trade union, and the GMOA cannot be the exception to the rule. In this instance, the GMOA has not exhausted all its options, and at the same time displays a callous disregard for the law of the land when it engages in what it is doing in the midst of an appeal that is being argued before the Supreme Court at this very moment.

The Government on its part must take a heavy responsibility for allowing this festering wound to continue disrupting the normal lives of the citizenry without finding a solution to the issue – one way or the other. Its indecisiveness is showing badly. When the President seemingly at his wits’ end had a private meeting with the GMOA big-wigs, a meeting that went horribly wrong, an angry Health Minister who was kept out of it, went public and had the audacity to call it a “hora meeting” or ‘rogue meeting’. An embarrassed President has now said there shall be no more meetings with the GMOA as far as he is concerned.

So, it now may appear to be Government policy to allow the GMOA to cook its own goose by threatening strikes at the drop of a hat and face the consequences with the public. The GMOA’s political affiliations are not without suspicion, and its motives in blocking private medical education in this country are not so altruistic as the union tries to make out.

The duplicity of allowing foreign medical degrees to be recognised and not local ones as a matter of principle betrays contradictions in its campaign. Overall, the GMOA must now realise that the standing of a doctor in the eyes of the average citizen is fast diminishing as the GMOA equates itself to any other trade union, while at the same time its members are expecting to be respected as practitioners of an otherwise noble profession.

The Police and the tuk-tuk tyranny

The Law and Order Minister was reported to have made a Vice-Squad like raid on the Cinnamon Gardens police station in residential Colombo and been startled to find more than 25 three-wheelers, all of them belonging to the men at the station, parked within its premises.

He need not have been shocked at what he saw. It is an open secret that given the fact the Police Department has the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt Government institution (and that is saying a lot), ‘private practice’ among the men in uniform is thriving.

That the top brass or their wives own buses, middle rankers own vans and the cop owns three-wheelers is not a state secret. What the Minister did following his ‘discovery’, however, remains a top secret. Whatever he does, or does not do, the fact of the matter is that the whole episode is part of the greater malaise not only of bribery and corruption in the country, but also of political ineffectiveness. To say that the canker has spread in the body politic is an understatement.

The tuk-tuk invasion in this country followed a few years after the liberalisation of the economy in 1977 when an influx of private buses and vans hit the roads. Road accidents were the order of the day as a direct result. The tuk-tuk dubbed the ‘the poor man’s Rolls Royce’ or the ‘baby taxi’ helped when public transport was unable to cope with the demand for greater mobility of a burgeoning population and an open economy. The numbers of these machines increased rapidly, especially with VRS (Volunteer Retirement Schemes) in the state sector adding to the unemployed list – and now stand at over 1.1 million three-wheelers clogging the roads with inexperienced and often reckless drivers at the wheel.

When tuk-tuks with two stroke engines were polluting the air with dirty carbon monoxide and cases of asthma among children were on the rise, politicians were reluctant to take action to curb their import for fear of losing votes from, by then, a unionised group dictating terms. Recent moves to increase the duty on new imports also came a cropper for the same reason.

In 2015 there were 378 deaths on the roads caused by three-wheelers, and in 2016 the number increased to 405. This year, the numbers are increasing to as many as 10 lives per week – a figure worse than the toll from dengue. These are frightening statistics.

The US embassy issued a stunning warning last week cautioning women, especially tourists from going in these three-wheelers. It is a terrible indictment when it is the country’s policemen who own many three-wheelers. Many that ply as taxis don’t even have meters. Foreigners are not comfortable – and don’t feel safe engaging them. All the laws to instil some discipline into these manic drivers are still on the drawing boards.

With policemen owning many of these vehicles, including buses and vans, the drivers feel they can get away with blue murder – and politicians are afraid to tackle this growing mafia fearing they would lose their vote bank. One and a half million votes are not to be trifled with for politicians. Safe roads on the other hand, are not election issues, after all.

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