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2nd May 1999

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Bitter pill over bill

The Health Ministry's Medical Supplies Division, public hospitals, the State Pharmaceutical Corporations and private drug firms are caught up in a dispute that appears to be leading to a major drug crisis.

State health officials for some reason are underplaying it but executives of private drug firms are saying large purchases from January this year have still not been made and there could be a major crisis within months.

The State Pharmaceuticals Corporation has cut down the supply of drugs to the Medical Supplies Division by 50 percent and has threatened a total cut-off if outstanding bills amounting to almost Rs. 1 billion are not paid.

A Health Ministry official said Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva had intervened to settle the dispute and one of the alternative measures was to make temporary allocation for major hospitals to buy drugs directly from Osu Sala, instead of going through the MSD.

But Dr. R. Fernando, Deputy Director of the National Hospital said, Osu Sala, from which the hospital bought drugs to the tune of Rs. 200,000 daily had cut down its supply by 50 percent.

She said the National Hospital was in debt to Osu Sala to the tune of Rs. 35 million from drugs bought during the first four months of this year.

Dr. Fernando said that about half this debt had been paid but the situation was still serious with hundreds of patients including heart patients not getting the drugs they should get.

The SPC on its part says it is paying a heavy interest to banks and cannot go on supplying to the MSD till the debts are settled.

But SPC Managing Director K. U. K. M. Kamalgoda and Chief Financial Controller Glennie F. Peiris said there was no major crisis but just a matter of non-payment of bills.

Mr. Kamalgoda said the main supplies to hospitals were still being made as usual but some hospitals which needed additional or special drugs were buying them directly without going through the MSD.

But the claims of the SPC bosses were challenged by Dr. A M L Beligaswatte, Director of the Kandy General Hospital. He said the MSD had not been sending the normal stocks to Kandy and they were forced to buy directly, running up a debt of almost Rs. 2 million.

Dr. P. Ekanayake, Medical Superintendent of the Matara General Hospital said the hospital had sufficient drugs up to now but the crisis which had hit Colombo and Kandy might affect the south also soon.

He said Rs. 700,000 allocated by the Health Ministry for the Matara Hospital to buy drugs directly was running out and they would be in big trouble if the dispute was not settled.

Dr. Mahanama Rajamanthri, Director of the Colombo North General Hospital in Ragama said they owed Osu Sala Rs. 2 million for drugs bought this year and supplies were now cut by 50 percent. But he said the hospital was managing without major problems.

Meanwhile managers of private pharmaceuticals firm said the bureaucratic dispute had blocked the tender procedure for the purchase of drugs this year and there might be a major shortage within a next few months.

SPC chief Kamalgoda admitted there was a delay in cash flow from the Ministry but the issue has now been resolved and the tender offers would soon be opened.

An official of the MSD said the Treasury allocation for drug purchases by the Health Ministry had been reduced this year from 3.2 billion to Rs 2.7 billion. This reduction of Rs. 500 million was one of the reasons for the crisis.

Other reports suggested that the dispute was linked to a conflict between the central government and the provincial administration. Many of the district hospitals are under the provincial hospitals while big hospitals come under the central government. But the MSD supplies drugs to all and the huge unpaid debt of Rs. 1 billion is linked to the bureaucratic bottlenecks between central and provincial administrations.

The MSD official said despite the cash flow problem, the major hospitals were not experiencing any major shortage.


CP may go it alone

By Shelani de Silva

Despite pressure from some quarters to go it alone, the Communist Party has decided to contest the upcoming Southern Polls on the PA ticket, but it might reconsider the position for future elections, party leader Raja Collure said.

He said the party believed the preferential voting system was a severe disadvantage to it and it was seeking a change in the system.

If that was not done, the party might contest by itself at future elections.

Mr. Collure said even for the southern elections, some members had suggested the CP should contest on its own. But when the LSSP decided to contest on the PA ticket, the CP also fell in line.

We will continue strike

Non-academic staff of Universities have vowed to continue their strike which has crippled work in all campuses since last Tuesday.

"The Chairman of the University Grants Commission should be held responsible for any delay or disruption in work in Universities.

He has ignored our issues for years," said a spokesman for the Inter-University Trade Union, D.P Lokugamage.

The strikers who are determined to continue the action until the authorities agree to their demands say that students as well as lecturers have expressed their support for the action, which will continue until an agreement is reached.

The Union has among their six demands, a pension scheme, restructuring of the B.C.Perera Salaries Commission report which reduced their monthly salaries, and payment of increments to those who did not receive them.

Focus on RightsFocus on Rights

Dubious heroes and other fairy tales

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardena

The bald truth worth reiterating is such short circuiting might have been well nigh impossible given the realities of a different political culture. Which, of course, does not say that the present situation is exactly ideal as far as creating space for an independent judiciary to function is concerned.

Garlanded and smiling strongmen of the previous regime flushed with glory after court verdicts in their favour have indeed become a sign of the times.

While one cannot but help marvel at the vagaries of a kind providence which has worked so miraculously in the legal causes of individuals such as Bulathsinhalage Sirisena Cooray, Ramalingam Paskaralingam and now Thenahandi Wijeyapala Hector Mendis, what must not be forgotton, that it is also the nature of the judicial and political environment at present that permits such judgments to be delivered without untoward timidity. Barring, of course, the customarily caustic words thrown in by the President or her ministers whenever judgments perceived by them as unpopular come out of the appellate courts of the land.

Such verbal barrage, unfortunate as it may be at times, is admittedly very different from systematic attempts to subvert the judiciary or tame it into uttering pronouncements in line with the current political thinking as what happened not so long ago. One of the best examples familiar to old timers (not counting the other more brutal incidents of intimidation of the judiciary peculiar to that era), concerning the functioning of a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry, was in the late 70's barely three months after promulgation of the new Constitution.

Here, a decision of the Court of Appeal holding with the former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, that a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed to look into her actions during the preceding years could not be vested with retrospective powers, was nullified by a Parliament swollen with the monolithic majority of the J.R.Jayewardene government. Parliament then went on to amend the new Constitution in a manner which denied the Court of Appeal jurisdiction in certain specified cases. Ms Bandaranaike was deprived of her civic rights and the rest, of course, is history.

The fact remains that, memories being short as they reputedly are, it is important to recall these throwbacks from the past, amidst the euphoria at this repeated judicial short circuiting of the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Act. The bald truth worth reiterating is such short circuiting might have been well nigh impossible given the realities of a different political culture. Which, of course, does not say that the present situation is exactly ideal as far as creating space for an independent judiciary to function is concerned.

Apart from this necessary reminder, what is interesting about this week's decision regarding the Commission's finding, is that it was delivered at a time when Parliament was, in fact, in the midst of considering the Resolution for the imposition of civic disabilities on Mendis. Indeed, this was a ground on which the State argued that Mendis's petition could not be entertained. The Court however, in the judgment of Fernando J. ( with Gunewardena J. and Gunesekera J. agreeing) did not consider this as a reason why it could not look into the matter. In the reasoning of the Court, the Parliament and the Judiciary have distinct and defined roles. The Constitution does not permit Parliament to directly exercise the judicial power of the people (except in relation to its own privileges). It can do so only through the courts created for this purpose.

While Parliament can therefore refuse to act on the findings of a Commission, it cannot subject such findings to review or to outlaw them on the basis that the inquiry was not fair or proper. Mendis's petition therefore sought relief in an area where Parliament has no authority and the Court could claim the right to scrutinize the issues even though the matter was pending before Parliament. The question as to whether the Court could have gone on ahead even if the pending Resolution had actually been passed by Parliament was however left open. Thus it was that the long delay in pushing the Resolution by a UNP leadership plagued by party discord tipped the scales in Wijeyapala Mendis's favour. Assuredly, destiny had been working overtime on his behalf.

The judgment itself is significant in fundamental respects. Not only was it ruled (following last year's decision concerning Paskaralingam) that the failure of the third Commissioner to sign the report outlawed the entirety but the Court also set aside the findings of the Commission due to a failure to observe essential rules of fairness. Mendis had been found guilty of charges different to which he had been asked to answer and on the whole had been subjected to an inquiry which did not reach minimum standards of fairness. The Commission is also found liable on the basis that it did not sufficiently activate itself to call important witnesses whose evidence would have been crucial, including Minister Saumayamoorthy Thondaman.

Thus it is that this week's decision of the Supreme Court takes judicial overseeing of the manner in which Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry function to a more rigorous height. Indeed, the number of significant decisions in recent years against the findings of such Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry appointed under the Act has reduced the Act itself to nothing short of a monstrous joke played on a cynical public.

Ironically, the end result is a loss of credibility of the Act, the abolition of which had been urged by human rights activists and concerned lawyers for years.

From another perspective, it makes the situation of sitting judges appointed by the President and compelled to serve on such Commissions, indeed an unhappy one. Pressurized by the work load of the normal courts on the one hand and forced to listen to ill judged criticisms of their functioning and alleged inability to come to speedy findings against those under investigation from none other than the President herself on the other, this repeated setting aside of their findings by the Supreme Court must surely come as the last straw.

The situation is easily remedied. The establishing of such Commissions must be stopped and the Act itself scrapped. Article 110(1) and (2) of the Constitution, which give the President power to require any judge of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal to perform or discharge any other appropriate duties or functions under any written law and to permit, by written consent, sitting judges to perform any other office or to accept any profit or emoluments must also be abolished as these provisions insinuate an unwarranted Presidential influence in the independence of the judiciary. Perhaps then this farcical game of playing divisional games with the country's judiciary will finally end.

All for the love of democracy and minority rights!

By Kumbakarna

The USA's concern for democracy and minority rights is highly selective.When a movement for secession threatens to de -stabilise its own interests, it has no hesitation in acting against it, as its role in the capture of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan demonstrates.

For the past several weeks, Yugoslavia has been under aerial attack from the 19-member alliance of western nations known as NATO. In actual fact, 80% of the force arrayed against Yugoslavia is from the USA. NATO is the 'front', just as the United Nations form the 'front' in the USA's continuing attacks on Iraq. The purpose of the Yugoslavian exercise is to force President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to NATO's peace plan for Kosovo. In view of the overwhelming force that NATO has at its disposal, it is quite possible this objective will be achieved.

Tamil separatists are very excited. Echoing the question that Henry Kissinger has asked, they ask why NATO doesn't bomb Colombo on behalf of ' Tamil Eelam' if they can bomb Belgrade on behalf of Kosovo. This is the theme of a lot of material appearing recently in the western media.

Let us briefly examine the history of the region known as the Balkans. Yugoslavia was created by Marshal Josip Broz Tito, by forming a federal state from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo. The people of Serbia are of Slavic ethnicity, and follow the Greek Orthodox denomination of Christianity. Bosnia is Muslim, while Croatia is Roman Catholic. The people of Kosovo are predominantly Muslims of Albanian origin, with a small minority of Serbs.

Albania itself has a rather turbulent history. In 1213, it was subjected to the authority of Rome. It was subsequently conquered by the Ottoman Empire, from which came the Islamic influence. After World War 2, Enver Hoxha made it a rigid Communist state, which however remained opposed to the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia under Tito followed this course as well.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the Yugoslav federation also began to come apart.The first to leave the fold was Bosnia. Although the Serbs initially quelled the rebellion, the Bosnians eventually succeeded in gaining independence, with the aid of other Muslim nations such as Iran and Pakistan and also military assistance from the USA . Then Croatia fought and won its own battle for independence. Finally, it is the turn of the Kosovars.

Why does the USA consider this issue important enough to start a war?

One theory is that it is an attempt by the USA to improve its image among Islamic nations. With most of them regarding its continuing bombing campaign against Iraq as anti - Muslim and anti-Arab, this is a chance for the USA to demonstrate that it can drop bombs in a pro-Muslim cause as well. However, Iran for one isn't impressed. Ayatollah Ali-Khamanei has said the USA's air attacks have only pushed the Kosovan Muslims from the frying pan into the fire, and that the ultimate result would be that they would never be able to return to Kosovo.

Another theory is that it is to do with domestic politics. Just as Clinton launched the latest campaign against Iraq on the day he was to face senate proceedings on the Monica Lewinsky affair, this is a way for him to end his presidency on a high note. It also serves to boost Al Gore's image among the American right -wing in the run-up to the Presidential elections. The US military establishment, one of the country's most powerful lobbying groups, loves this war, as it enables the testing of the latest weapons systems under battlefield conditions different to the Iraqi desert .

Yet another theory is that it is an attempt to undermine the growing European Union. Despite the lip service paid as to the advantages of a ' global economy' and so on, the simple fact is that the US can dominate international commerce only in the absence of a similarly powerful bloc. With the Japanese and other East Asian economies showing little signs of recovery, the threat to US dominance at least in the short term can come only from the EU. By dragging western European nations into its Balkan campaign, the US has effectively prevented the further eastward expansion of the Union. It is difficult to imagine other Slavic nations like the Ukraine easily forgiving the western nations for what they are doing to their fellow Slavs in Yugoslavia. When one considers that Ukraine is one of Europe's most resource-rich countries, the reason for the US wishing to drive in this wedge becomes clear.

The Americans' own stated reasons for launching this campaign couldn't be more noble. It's all for the love of democracy, they say, and the safeguarding of minority rights.

The USA's concern for democracy and minority rights is highly selective. When a movement for secession threatens to de -stabilise its own interests, it has no hesitation in acting against it, as its role in the capture of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan demonstrates. Turkey, after all, is an important ally when it comes to bombing Iraq, so Kurdish independence must be dispensed with, in the interests of regional stability. If the US realises that the LTTE's secessionist campaign is a threat to stability in the South Asian region , it might decide to lend a hand in the capture of Prabhakaran.

This may not be quite what the ' Eelamists' have in mind when they clamour for US intervention in Sri Lanka, but of course it would always depend on where US interests lie.

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