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8th August 1999

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Where's the cure for 40,000 quacks?

By Faraza Farook

With some 40,000 quacks known to be posing off as western, homeopathy or ayurveda physicians, innocent people are facing the danger of getting treatment that is worse than the ailment.

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) is blaming the Sri Lanka Medical Council and the Health Ministry for failing to crack down on the thousands of unqualified or incompetent persons who have set up so-called dispensaries..

The lethargic attitude of the Health Ministry and the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) has led quacks to confidently practise medicine throughout the island.

"Many presume that these quacks are outside Colombo, in districts like Moneragala and Anuradhapura. But to our dismay, most of their clinics are in the heart of Colombo city. Having won the confidence of hundreds of patients and established their business over several years, these quacks have even opened up new clinics in other areas," a GMOA official said.

The Sunday Times learns that some have been in the field for more than ten years. Many of those engaged in the trade are male nurses, pharmacists and dispensers. Some of these clinics are at Maradana, Kompannaveediya and Mattakkuliya. These quacks also train some people in the medical field.

In an attempt to identify quacks and to have control over private medical institutions, a legal draft was formulated when A. H. M. Fowzie was the health minister.

"This draft went before the Consultative Committee but I don't know what happened to it thereafter," Mr. Fowzie said.

Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said, "if we get complaints about quacks, the ministry will apprehend and prosecute them."

While the Health Ministry was prepared to take action against the quacks provided that they are informed, the SLMC says they could act only as an informant. However, both institutions though responsible seem to do very little about the whole issue.

With less control of the quacks, illegal abortion clinics have also mushroomed in the city, where unsafe methods are practised.

In some instances the quacks claim that these women are pregnant and charge fees for abortions when no abortion actually takes place, Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya of the National Hospital said. Issuing of bogus medical certificates to women who seek employment in the Middle East as housemaids is a thriving business for them. Often, the job agent too has a share in this business.

"Some of these quacks are protected by politicians and therefore no action is taken against them," he said.

"The quacks refer patients to consultants at the National Hospital and private hospitals," he said.

Prescriptions to patients and letters to other doctors bear the seal of the quack. This proves that despite being engaged in an unethical practice, the quacks have lost any fear of being pulled up by the government, Dr. Padeniya said.

Another problem confronted in identifying the quacks is that they protect themselves under various medical systems.

The three medical systems — Western, Homeopathy and Ayurveda — come under three separate medical bodies. Therefore it is possible that the quack can claim that he is practising Ayurveda when authorities from the SLMC try to check him.

Though the medical councils can play a vital role in apprehending the culprits, not all are interested. SLMC Registrar Prof. P.S.S. Panditharatne said, "we deal only with those who have been registered with us. With regard to quacks, we can only act as an informant".

The Sunday Times also contacted the Ayurveda and Homeopathy Medical Councils.

Registrar of the Ayurveda Medical Council, M.N. Chandrasena said they received written complaints from the public. "The disciplinary committee of the council takes action after identifying the quacks. We initially warn them failing which we take action to eliminate their practice," he said.

T.C. Pieris, president of the Homeopathy Medical Council, also accepted that there were quacks practising homeopathy, but said the recently established council is still in the process of registering members.

"If the SLMC wants us to send a representative from the HMC when conducting raids, we are willing to cooperate," he said.

However, nobody seems to claim responsibility or take an interest to address the issue.

LTTE, UNP blocking peace, says President

By Nilika de Silva

President Chandrika Kumaratunga yesterday lashed out at both the UNP and the LTTE accusing them of playing dirty or murderous politics and blocking the peace process at every point.

Addressing the SLFP Muslim wing convention at the Stanley Jansz Park in Colombo, the President said the UNP was telling the government to talk to the LTTE first while the LTTE was telling the PA and the UNP to reach a consensus first before talking to the LTTE. Despite the muddle and mudhole situation created by those parties, the government was determined to push through constitutional reforms and devolution proposals as a political solution to the ethnic conflict.

"The United National Party came to power in 1977 with a 5/6 majority. Using this 5/6 majority that government could have prevented the problems of the minority communities in this country becoming so great," the President said.

She said the UNP could not solve the problems facing the Tamil people because it had no vision, no policies and no plan.

"When we were preparing for elections in 93, we pondered deeply on this subject. We held extensive discussions and formulated a clear policy on the issue of minorities. Upto that point no political party in this country had presented a clear policy on this subject," the President said.

Flanked by Ministers A. H. M. Fowzie and Alavi Moulana the President assured the Muslim community that the government would foster the highest principles of unity in diversity and ensure equal rights for people of all races and religions. Minister M. H. M. Ashraff, known to be at odds with Mr. Fowzie, was a notable absentee at the meeting.

Village girls get wings for combat

By Chris Kamalendran

Airwomen trained as gunners will soon be deployed in the operational areas in the North and East while some of them will be seen in Colombo city checkpoints without any male assistance.

More than 100 girls, mainly from remote villages, are undergoing a gruelling training in extensive use of heavy weapons, jungle warfare, carrying out cordon and search operations and on putting up sudden road blocks.

The deployment of airwomen will enable the male counterparts to move into operational areas.

"This intake has been successful in their training. There has been only one dropout despite the strenuous training given to them," Squadron Leader M.G.M. Chandralal, the Chief Instructor of the Women's Wing at the Katunayake base told The Sunday Times.

He said the training included two hours of drill in the morning, the use of weapons, physical training and even martial arts among other activities. They also have to attend daily lectures.

"Unlike a male soldier it is difficult to motivate them.

We have to strengthen them mentally and a lot of effort has to be put into this task. This batch now with us has been very strong in this aspect," he said.

Most of the recruits have been those who have sat the Advanced Level examination. There were even some who had missed entering the university, by a few marks.

Gayani Abeysinghe, from Galewela Dambulla said: "From my school days I had an idea of joining the forces.

However I was influenced to join the Air Force after I witnessed a passing out parade of my aunt's daughter about three years ago. This was in my mind for some time and after I sat the A/L and the results were out, I applied and was selected.

"It is a challenge to undertake tasks similar to what our male colleagues in the Air Force carry out. Though I am aware of the high risks involved in serving in operational areas I am willing to undertake any task in those areas," she said.

Air Force Commander Jayalath Weerakkody said that the aim was to make the airwomen professional soldiers and this combat crash training would help them to adjust to any situation.

Right of reply

The Interim Council of the Sri Lanka Association of Motor Sports (SLAMS) has written to The Sunday Times on a story last week titled "First cricket ; now racing - Interim body stops Autocross", where it was reported that an interim body of SLAMS asked the Wattala police to stop a private members day autocross.

The relevant paragraphs arising form the report are as follows:

1. The claim by the CMSC (Ceylon Motor Sports Club) that our Controlling Body had written to the Wattala Police saying that their meet was not authorized by us, is correct.

2. The Minister of Sports had given strict instructions to our Interim Board to regulate all motor sports events rigidly, and ensure that approval for an Organising Permit is obtained by any member club promoting any form of motor sports or motoring event in future.

3. This decision was taken by the minister because motor racing is probably the most dangerous sport in the world, as competitors, officials and spectators alike are in grave danger of serious injury or death, if proper safety precautions are not adequately in place.

4. It was not because one Club (Up-Country Motor Sports Club), made a complaint that the Minister dissolved the former SLAMS, but because they did not carry out the directives given by the Sports ministry, and for violating the Sports Law of Sri Lanka.

5. The story alleges that the Members of the Interim Board comprises mostly of one particular Club. This is not strictly true as these members of the Interim Board are members of several clubs, and so are all motor sportsmen.

The CMSC also allege that no proper inquiry was conducted by the Ministry of Sports before dissolving the former SLAMS, but we wish to state that at an inquiry held at the ministry of Sports against the former SLAMS in the presence of five officials of the Ministry, including a lady Director of Sports, the former President of the former SLAMS behaved in a shameful manner.

6. As stated, it is true that the former SLAMS Executive Members have filed action against the ministry of Sports and Members of our Interim Board. In this regard I wish to point out that this action has not been filed by any Motor Sports Clubs but only by the disgruntled individuals of the former SLAMS. We do not wish to comment on this matter further as it is sub judice.

7. The CMSC had, in order to avoid asking our Controlling Body for approval to run this meet, disguised it as a "Members' Day" event open to all members and their guests. This stipulation, in effect opens it to everyone. Further, they were going to run it under SLAMS General Competition Rules without permission from SLAMS !.

8. We had written to the CMSC on 23rd July 1999 and pointed out to them that they have already issued entry forms etc., without an organising permit from our Controlling Competition Rules, and the Constitution of the SLAMS.

9. It was in this light that we wrote to the Wattala Police informing them to stop this meet as we were very concerned about spectator safety at such an unauthorized meet.

Our reporter states:

The organisers of the autocross, who were individual members of a recognised motor sports club simply say this : why can't a group of individuals get together and have a private motor rally?

For instance, must people get permission from the Cricket Board when they want to play a cricket match. And if it is according to ICC rules must they get permission from London lest somebody gets a ball on his head.

The former SLAMS was dissolved because they did not have the AGM on time even though a postponement was requested. Several other sports bodies have got such extensions.

What does the Interim body mean by contesting the fact that the Interim Board does not comprise mostly Up-Country Motor Sports Club by stating "this is not strictly true"?

Four of the seven members of the Interim Board are primarily from this club. The President is in Japan!

The rest of the issues are before Court!

SPC throws text books at Treasury

By Shelani de Silva

A row has erupted between the Treasury and the head of the State Printing Corporation over the printing of millions of school text books.

An angry SPC chairman A B C de Silva has come out strongly and publicly against a Treasury decision to give upto two thirds of the huge printing contracts to private firms.

Mr. de Silva said the SPC had all these years done a good job at a fair price and he saw no reason why the contract for more than seven million books should go to private firms.

As the dispute persists, the Treasury has sent three letters to the SPC chairman asking for an explanation on his conduct. But Mr. de Silva is insisting he is responsible directly to the President and is seeking an appointment with her to personally explain what he said and why he said.

Mr. de Silva said hundreds of SPC workers would become redundant if the huge text book contract was lost.

The Treasury had promised that extra funds would be provided to pay their salaries and prevent retrenchment. But Mr. de Silva said he was not interested in paying people for doing nothing. He wanted justice in terms of giving the whole contract to the SPC which had done a fine job upto now.

JSC clarifies position on judges

The Acting Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has sent the following letter to the Editor, The Sunday Times. We publish it in full with an interview of him subsequent to us receiving the letter.

"With regard to a news item which appeared in The Sunday Times dated 01.08.1999 under the heading "Dismissed Judge Back on the Bench," the Judicial Services Commission has directed me to inform you that certain statements contained therein are incorrect.

"The statement that the JSC rejected the recommendation of the Disciplinary Committee to send A.H.M.U. Abeyratne on compulsory retirement and impose on him a lesser punishment is factually incorrect. The Disciplinary Committee has not made any such recommendation. The imposition of an appropriate punishment is a matter which falls entirely within the jurisdiction of the JSC.

"The inquiry held against Lenin Ratnayake Bandara was a fact-finding inquiry and not a disciplinary inquiry. Therefore, the question of finding him guilty of any charges does not arise at this stage. The JSC has sent Mr. Bandara on compulsory leave pending the determination of charges, if any, to be served on him. "

Interview with the JSC's acting secretary D.N. Samarakoon:

Q: According to the statement you sent the committee has not made any recommendations on Upali Abeyratne's matter. So you categorically say that they did not make any recommendations

A: Yes.

Q: Would you say what exactly the findings of the committee were

A: No. It is in the minutes. Without permission from the Commission I cannot say. What I say is that they had not made any recommendation. It is only their findings. It was the JSC that first decided to send Mr. Abeyratne on compulsory retirement with effect from July 31. Before that, Mr. Abeyratne submitted an appeal to reconsider the decision. Faiz Mustapha made submissions regarding the appeal. The submissions were considered and the Commission altered the decision and instead of sending Mr. Abeyratne on retirement decided to stop his promotions for two years from July 19 and to transfer him to Moneragala with effect from January next year. Until then he is the District Judge, Gampaha, unless the Commission takes any decision otherwise.

Q: When the appeal was pending, was he working?

A: Yes. The decision to send him on compulsory retirement was taken at the end of that month. So until that he was working and during that time he made the appeal.

Q: Would you tell us on what grounds the appeal was made.

A: I do not want to comment about it.

Q: What is the position regarding Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake?

A: It was not a disciplinary inquiry. That was a fact-finding inquiry. Having considered the report of that inquiry the Commission sent Mr. Ratnayake on compulsory leave from July 30 pending further action. Now the matter has been referred to the Attorney General to prepare the charges.

Q: So the matter is now before the AG?

A: Usually we do that. Regarding Judicial officers the matter is referred to the AG to consider whether we should frame charges or not, and if he is to frame charges, what are the charges that will be drafted by the AG?

Q: Since there has been various reports on this case, would you be able to tell what exactly the allegation were?

A: No, I am afraid I cannot say .

(A copy of the allegations obtained by The Sunday Times were handed over to Mr. Samarakone and asked whether he could comment on them.)

The charges were that Mr. Ratnayake had called a suspect into his chamber on December 17, 1997 and had a sexual relationship with her. On the same day the woman had fallen ill and on the instructions of Mr. Ratnayake she had been admitted to the Mahawa Hospital and on the following day Mr. Ratnayake had taken her away in a vehicle and threatened her with a pistol and had a sexual relationship.

Mr. Ratnayake at the time of joining the Judicial Service is also alleged to have concealed information about records of his previous employment at the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation where he had been found guilty of six offences and his services were terminated.)

A: Yes. Some of these allegations have appeared in the press. But I am afraid officially I cannot comment on them.

Q: Are you prevented from commenting on these matters.

A: Usually we do not divulge decisions of the Commission, as they are confidential. The reason is that these documents concern files of Judicial officers. So usually some matters are confidential and not given out. So in these two cases the Commission has granted permission to tell what I have just told you.

Please see Editorial comment and Hulftsdorp Hill )

Tigers to Colombo at Rs. 25,000 per head

The price to plant a Tiger in Colombo is a tidy 10,000 rupees and two Sinhala youths who had brought 25 Tigers to Colombo during a period of two years were netted by the special investigations office in Vavuniya.

They are said to be from Irattapettiyakulam and Medawachchiya. A senior police official said that they are on the look out for a Tamil accomplice too in this modus operandi. Tigers who come down from Jaffna to Vavuniya in disguise are helped by these men who bring them to Colombo and the suburbs, via the jungles of Medawachchiya in three wheelers.

The twosome admitted to have been in this business for some time bringing as many as 25 Tigers in a two year period at different times.

The silence of terror

Though the United States has strongly condemned the LTTE for the assassination of moderate Tamil leader Neelan Tiruchelvam, Britain and France still appear to be cautious or soft lining on the terrorists.

The British High Commission and the French Embassy have sent letters of condolence to Dr. Tiruchelvam's widow Sitthy, but no public statements have been issued yet identifying or condemning the LTTE for the killing.

A spokesperson for the French embassy told The Sunday Times that it was not compulsory to issue public statement and a personal letter of condolence from the Foreign Ministry in Paris had been sent to Ms. Tiruchelvam.

A British High Commission spokesman also said a private letter of condolence was sent to the widow. She said it was not a must to issue a public statement.

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