Covid-19 jab controversy: GMOA questions creation of new category
Namal promises countrywide inoculation of 20-30 group soon
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has questioned the rationale behind vaccinating those between 20-30 years of age and the prioritisation of districts, contrary to a consensus reached with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Assistant Secretary, GMOA, Dr. Naveen de Zoysa, on Thursday (2), accused the Epidemiology Unit of following a politically motivated agenda inimical to the government’s overall response to the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Samitha Ginige is the Chief Epidemiologist.who replaced Dr. Sudath Samaraweera in June this year.
Dr. de Zoysa alleged that Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe has backed the Epidemiology unit strategy, thereby placing the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena and the Deputy Director General of Health Services (Public Health Services) Dr. Mahendra Arnold in an extremely difficult and embarrassing position.
Dr. de Zoysa alleged that they had lost control of the vaccination drive.
The GMOA fired a salvo in the wake of the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry announcement of the launch of vaccination drive in the Hambantota district meant to inoculate those in the 20-30 age group.
It quoted Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry Namal Rajapaksa as having said the inoculation of that particular group was now taking place in the Hambantota district and would soon be implemented countrywide.
Having visited the vaccination centres at Ambalantota, Ranna and Tissamaharama in the Hambantota district, young Minister Rajapaksa emphasized that health sector specialists approved the vaccination of this particular category. He declared that the vaccination drive targeting 20 to 30 group was being implemented with the blessings of the President, the Prime Minister and the Health Minister.
However, GMOA spokesperson Dr de Zoysa questioned the criterion under which those districts were being chosen ahead of others for vaccination and also the particular vaccine allocated on district/age group basis. Dr. de Zoysa declared they were in the dark as regards the latest controversial decision.
The GMOA spokesperson asked why only the military was tasked with inoculating the public with Pfizer vaccine. “Why isn’t the health sector given that opportunity? If we are capable of inoculating the public with Sinopharm, Moderna and Sputnik why not Pfizer,” Dr. De Zoysa asked, urging those in authority to provide a plausible explanation.
Dr. de Zoysa said that irrational decisions had placed the entire Covid-19 fighting process in jeopardy with those responsible taking contradictory stands on the vaccination drive.
In spite of a decision taken with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to release sufficient stocks of Covid-19 vaccines to the health sector, the military continued to receive ample supplies whereas hospitals and other centres managed by civilian staff were in jeopardy. The situation was so bad that civilian managed vaccination could cause quite a serious spread of the disease, Dr. de Zoysa said, pointing out the crisis caused by an ill-informed decision to ask the public to get the first dose from any vaccination centre.
The GMOA urged newly appointed health minister Keheliya Rambukwella to follow the strategy they agreed on. Rambukwella recently succeeded Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi who publicly lamented what she called her unceremonious exit from the health ministry.
Dr. De Zoysa urged the government to take a realistic view of the developing situation and implement a scientifically sound strategy meant to bring down the daily deaths under control by Oct-Nov this year.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry in a statement issued following a meeting Minister Rambukwella had with a health sector delegation led by Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda on Sept 2, stated that the vaccination of 18-30 year category got underway at district basis on Sept 2.
The former Media Minister Rambukwella said that the inoculation of those 30 and above could be completed within two – three weeks and 20 –30 category vaccinated before end of October. According to lawmaker Rambukwella, 20-30 category comprised about 3.7 mn persons.
The minister explained that in line with the government decision to inoculate frontline health workers, those engaged in essential services as well as those in the garment trade, a substantial number who came within 20-30 category had been inoculated.
The health ministry statement, however, didn’t refer to the launch of the vaccination programme in the Hambantota district. Subsequently, the health ministry, in another statement, revised the vaccinated category from 18-30 to 20-30.
Well informed sources said that the government should have vaccinated those in the 18-30 category as planned and then inoculate the 15-18 group. Sources pointed out that the vaccination of those in Advance Level classes as well as students sitting the 2021 AL examination had been denied the protection they deserved.
Sources said that the creation of 20-30 category should be examined against the earlier declaration made by President Rajapaksa that the health administration should recommend whether to give a third dose to those who had been vaccinated or vaccinate the category under 30. The President dealt with the issue at a recent meeting of the Covid Prevention Task Force at the Presidential Secretariat.
Sources at Export Processing Zones (EPZs) said that the government took tangible measures to have those working in manufacturing plants within the zones and outside inoculated. Sources said that the intervention made by Minister Namal Rajapaksa in that regard was quite helpful.
About 375 specialist docs have left SL in 12 months
By Shiran Ranasinghe
Work in most hospitals have been severely affected by the migration of over 375 specialist doctors and thousands of healthcare staff, and drug shortages, doctors claim.About 50 per cent of doctors who are abroad to receive higher medical training to become specialists have informed that they have no intention of returning to the country.
So far, the hospitals in Kilinochchi, Anuradhapura, Tangalle, Hambantota, Mullaitivu and Dehiattakandiya are the worst affected and many clinics and other facilities provided by these hospitals have come to a standstill.
Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) media spokesman Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe said that some hospitals would have to be closed down. About 1000-1500 doctors had left the country and no one had any idea about the number of nurses and other health staff who have left the country, he said
“This is a sad state of affairs and there are several reasons why health staff are leaving the country. One is the high taxes and another is the political and economic instability. They are also stressed out because they can’t treat patients due to medical shortages. Most of the doctors spend their day calling people and cajoling philanthropists to help them secure medicine for their hospitals,” he said.
Meanwhile, one of the two catheterisation machines of the Kandy hospital has broken down, placing the lives of some of the 8024 patients who are in the waiting list in jeopardy.
Head of the government radiologist union, Chanaka Dharmaratne said those machines were vital to treat heart patients. “One machine at the Kandy General Hospital is out of order while the other needs immediate servicing. These are important and expensive pieces of equipment that are vital in treating and identifying heart ailments,” he said.
A private hospital will charge about 100,000 rupees for the use of catheterisation machines and about one million rupees to introduce a stent, he said.Dharmaratne said that there are many drug and equipment shortages in the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children too.
Gampaha General Hospital Director, Dr. Himali Wijegunasekera said that they rely heavily on philanthropists to deal with the severe drug shortage in hospitals. She added that frequently needed drugs to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are in short supply as well. Doctors at the hospital had given a list of drugs that are in short supply to the hospital development authority to circulate among philanthropists.
said they were planning to set up five paying wards at the hospital. There were about 2,400 medical specialists in the country. 285 were to retire soon after turning 65 and around 375 had left the country in the past 12 months, she said said.
NSB Chairman hands over annual report to President
Dr. Harsha Cabral, Chairman of the National Savings Bank, formally presented the bank’s annual report for the year 2022 to Minister of Finance, Economic Stabilization & National Policies President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on Thursday (01).
The report, titled “Strengthening Our Strength,” provides an integrated overview of the bank’s performance within the economic framework and its engagements with the social and environmental sectors.
The Government’s objective is to develop Sri Lanka as a thriving nation by 2048 – President
President Ranil Wickremesinghe making a special statement to the nation reiterated his commitment to prevent any regression of the country to its previous state and his determination to transform Sri Lanka into a fully developed nation by 2048.
The President explained at length the measures taken by the government in the past nine months to assist the Sri Lankan economy to recover, as well as the next stages in the state’s social, economic and political reform agenda. President Wickremesinghe also presented the operational proposal to the country to achieve the desired goals.
Following is the full statement delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe;
“Since the day I took charge of our nation’s economy, I wanted to ensure you that Sri Lanka’s actual economic situation was made clear and transparent. Over the recent months, I have provided regular updates on Sri Lanka’s economic state, outlined strategies to overcome our challenges, and emphasized the role each of us must play for the betterment of our nation.
We have endured numerous hardships due to a struggling economy, but we are slowly making progress towards achieving stability. Our weakened and crippled economy from the crisis is gradually regaining its footing.
This achievement is a result of the correct policies and practices my government has implemented. It is also a testament to our collective effort as a nation in rising above the many challenges and hardships that came our way.
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all Sri Lankans for persevering through these hardships for the sake of our motherland. If we continue on this path for just a little longer, I am confident we will be able to establish a stable economy free from the difficulties we endured together as a nation.
Sri Lanka is now ready to embark upon a journey of collective growth and prosperity.
In what manner should we proceed on this journey? Which practices should we adopt to ensure our progress?
Today, it is my honour to share with you a roadmap detailing the steps we intend to pursue to forge a brighter and prosperous future for all Sri Lankans.
Throughout my tenure as President, I have consistently emphasized the need for comprehensive economic and social reforms in Sri Lanka. In the 2023 Budget, I highlighted several reforms that aim to restructure and modernize the nation. It is crucial that we remain committed to these reforms to build a better future for Sri Lanka.
I want to remind you that some decisions we make may not always be popular. However, it is only by pursuing policies that are right and difficult can we uplift our country once again. I can assure you that if we remain committed to reform, we can create a nation where future generations can live freely and happily.
Unfortunately, some groups involved in traditional politics are actively working to hinder our economic revival. They are spreading false information about our reform agenda and intentionally misleading the public with claims that we are selling off the country.
Throughout history, these groups have continuously resorted to fear-mongering tactics, falsely asserting that our actions are driven by a desire to sell out our nation. They have deceived many Sri Lankans in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s, instilling an irrational fear of the country being sold away. From then until now, these groups have disrupted real progress for economic reform by perpetuating this slogan of “selling the country”.
I am confident that you will no longer be deceived by such slogans. It is imperative for all of us to work diligently and to totally devote ourselves to the upliftment of our country. Our objective is to transform into a fully developed nation on the global stage by 2048. If we fail to align our economy with the modern world and the latest trends in technology, we will regress. The consequence of failure is the country becoming an economic colony. Let us forge ahead and shape our economy in a way that enables us to compete on the global stage. Let us carry out the necessary economic reforms for the greater good of our nation.
Through these economic reforms, our aim is to rectify misguided policies, programs, and projects. Rebuilding a bankrupt nation cannot be achieved by using traditional methods. We must adopt a fresh approach and embark on a new journey of transformation.
What are the outcomes of these economic reforms?
The cost of living for all Sri Lankans will decrease, and our standards of living will rise. Is that a mistake? Is it tantamount to selling our country? These reforms generate new opportunities for businesses to grow and thrive, ranging from small-scale enterprises to large-scale ventures. Is that a mistake? Is it a country being sold?
We are working to provide necessary relief and essential facilities to the poor and the most vulnerable segments of our society. Is that a mistake? Is it a betrayal of our country?
The burden of covering losses incurred by state owned enterprises will no longer be placed on the people. Is that a mistake? Does it suggest a country’s sale?
A culture of accountability and transparency is being fostered. Is that a mistake? Does that mean the country is being sold? We are working to make Sri Lanka one of the world’s fastest-growing nations. Is that a mistake? Does that imply that the country is for sale?
The implementation of our economic reforms serves only to achieve sustainable development and prosperity for our country. Through these reforms, we will accelerate Sri Lanka’s modernization, expand our market, and encourage greater contributions from the international community toward our development.
We acknowledge that this journey is not an easy one, and we anticipate numerous challenges along the way. However, we are determined to overcome these obstacles. Our government is committed to always acting in the best interest of our country.
We will not allow anyone to drag our motherland back to where we were a year ago. Today, some individuals seem to have forgotten the hardships endured by Sri Lankans during that time. Our economy contracted by 8.7%, our foreign exchange reserves hit rock bottom, and we experienced one of the highest inflation rates in the world. Foreign loans went unpaid, pushing the country into bankruptcy. Food scarcity became a pressing issue, with people waiting in queues for days to obtain oil and gas. Agriculture suffered due to a lack of fertilizer, resulting in crop losses and helpless farmers. Businesses collapsed, leading to job losses and income sources drying up. Hospitals faced shortages of medication, schools had to close, and power cuts lasting 10-12 hours became commonplace. The country was in disarray, with people struggling to survive.
Unable to bear these hardships any longer, the people became restless and began to struggle. In the face of these tremendous challenges, I assumed the responsibility of managing the country’s economy as the Prime Minister. In such a difficult backdrop, I possessed only one source of strength: my unwavering belief and determination to safely guide our motherland across this arduous journey.
When we first took steps to stabilize the country, we implemented stringent financial controls. We recognized that our only way out of this crisis was to seek support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Thus, we initiated negotiations with them, which involved multiple rounds of lengthy discussions. Eventually, the IMF agreed to provide us with an Extended Credit Facility. Additionally, we embarked on programs to secure loan assistance from other financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
During this challenging period, our neighbour India played a significant role in supporting us. Bangladesh and Japan also offered their support. Several countries, including China, India, Japan, and members of the Paris Club, agreed to restructure our debt, of which we are immensely grateful for on behalf of the Sri Lankan people. These collective efforts and collaborations are part of our commitment to achieving sustainable development and success for our country.
In our efforts to stabilize the country, we implemented strict financial controls, leading to significant cost savings. Additionally, our foreign workers have made valuable contributions to our nation-building endeavours. In the first quarter of this year, the remittances sent by foreign workers increased by 80.6% compared to 2022. Furthermore, our new tax policies have resulted in an additional income of Rs. 210 billion in the first quarter of 2023. These achievements highlight the positive impact of our measures on our economy.
Today, we are reaping the rewards of our hard work and dedication. Inflation, which had skyrocketed to 70 percent, has now decreased to 25.2 percent, lightening the burden of daily life for all of us. The entire population of Sri Lanka is experiencing a sense of relief given the improvements we made to the economy.
Now, let me explain our vision for the future and how we plan to move forward. We have built our roadmap on four key pillars that will shape our path ahead.
The 1st Pillar – Fiscal and Financial Reforms
We have successfully reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regarding fiscal and financial reforms, which received approval from Parliament. We have initiated reforms in tax policies, revenue administration, and public financial management, and we will continue to pursue the successful delivery of these efforts. Our aim is to implement necessary reforms that will ensure long-term sustainability of public debt and the stability of our economy. Ultimately, we want to rebuild confidence in the Sri Lankan market.
In our pursuit of economic stability, we have implemented various cost reduction and containment measures since May 2022. We are taking further steps to minimize unnecessary expenses, emphasizing to government officials the need for prudent spending. Our approach includes:
1. Halting unnecessary expenditure,
2. Streamlining government activities to reduce costs,
3. Designing cost-effective government operations, and
4. Leveraging automation and digitalization to reduce costs while delivering quality services.
The 2nd Pillar – Investment Drive
Promoting investments play a crucial role in boosting a country’s economy. We also recognize the significance of collaboration between the public and private sectors in our journey towards economic growth. Our goal is to transform Sri Lanka into an export-oriented economy that is globally recognized, following the successful models of countries like South Korea and Singapore.
Furthermore, we aim to prioritize modern and sustainable efforts such as renewable energy, green hydrogen, and digitization. We can draw inspiration from the Andhra region of India, which has excelled in developing these areas. Such modern and sustainable initiatives are vital for the complete transformation of Sri Lanka’s economy.
Over the next few months, we will make a special invitation to the private sector to submit their own business proposals that align with our vision of modernization and sustainability. We will ensure transparency and openness by publicizing this call for proposals through mass media in a formal manner. We believe that a collaborative partnership between the public and private sectors will drive the engine to accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic growth and revival.
The selection of proposals is based on four key criteria:
1. Size of private investment,
2. Job creation,
3. Export contribution, and
4. Economic contribution.
To ensure the effective implementation of these business proposals, we will introduce a new system called the Lab methodology.
Under the Lab approach, we will bring together Government Ministers, government officials, subject matter experts, and key representatives from the private sector to collaboratively engage in detailed discussions over a period of six weeks. The aim is to collaboratively resolve any roadblocks hindering the roll-out of investments and projects by listening carefully to the private sector. During these discussions, comprehensive implementation plans will be developed, and the necessary facilities to support the implementation of these projects will be organized. Government stakeholders involved in the Labs will dedicate their full-time efforts to ensure the successful execution of these projects.
As President, I, along with the Cabinet Ministers, will actively participate in this event to demonstrate the government’s commitment to ensuring success of the Lab process.
Through the Labs, we aim to achieve three main objectives. They are to:
1. Accelerate the economic recovery through approved business proposals and projects
2. Create new employment opportunities, and to
3. Streamline the government machinery to facilitate the implementation of future projects by removing obstacles through transparent procedures.
In order to foster a conducive environment for investment, we also need to reform Sri Lanka’s trade practices, which have been structured under strict protectionist policies. It is time to remove these barriers that have discouraged investors and to promote a more open and welcoming approach.
3rd Pillar – Social Protection and Governance
We will also apply the Lab methodology to address social safety net concerns. We will engage various government ministries, departments, agencies, civil society representatives, and subject matter experts in the integration process of social security measures.
Over the years, the people of Sri Lanka have expressed three main demands: combating corruption, protecting the poor and vulnerable sections of society, and ensuring transparency in government actions and practices. We are actively working to meet these demands.
Through the Lab methodology, we will assess the adequacy of social security measures for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sections of society. Our goal is to provide them with the necessary support and relief they require.
A special task force is being established to combat corruption across all sectors, including regulation, procurement, and political corruption. We are committed to implementing anti-corruption practices through a government mechanism that emphasizes accountability via modern techniques such as digitization.
4th Pillar – State Owned Enterprises Transformation
There are currently 430 public enterprises operating in 33 sectors of the economy. These enterprises employ 6% of the Sri Lankan population. However, many of these enterprises have garnered monopolistic positions in the market, hindering private investment. Price fixing, inefficient management, and poor entrepreneurship have weakened public finances, turning these institutions into national burdens that are dependent on the taxpayer.
Notably, entities like the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, Ceylon Electricity Board, and Sri Lankan Air Lines have incurred significant operating losses, equivalent to 1.6% of the country’s GDP in 2021. It is unjust to burden the 22 million people of Sri Lanka with this debt. We must urgently undertake necessary reforms in our SOEs to ensure the turnaround and success of these enterprises.
We have already initiated the preparation of a restructuring plan for public enterprises. Additionally, we expect the chief officers of these enterprises to be committed to improving their performances. If they fail to meet the annual targets assigned to them, we will not hesitate to replace them with more suitable candidates.
Public participation is crucial to our Labs. All outcomes from the lab discussion, including plans, analyses, and conclusions during the six-weeks will be shared with the public in a physical forum called the “Open Day”. This platform will allow the public to express their feedback to the lab outcomes and the nation’s reform efforts, of which their contributions will serve to further refine the implementation process.
I am actively taking steps to regularly present information about our reform and reorganization programs to the public. I believe that the President should make it an annual ritual to engage with the people and provide updates on our nation’s progress.
We recognize the importance of incorporating the views of all segments of society in implementing our roadmap towards growth and prosperity. After hearing from the public during the “Open Day”, we will transparently share the progress of the Labs along with the activities of the special task forces related to the economy through digital media. This will allow the public to observe the implementation of the plans in practice, and also be able to identify and resolve obstacles along the journey.
In the last quarter of this year, we will then work to unveil the national transformation plan to the public.
Following extensive efforts, we anticipate revealing the National Reorganization Plan during the final quarter of this year. This plan aims to offer the public the chance to witness the advancement of plan implementation and practices via digital media. Furthermore, it encompasses a systematic approach to shed light on challenges and barriers encountered during implementation. Consequently, it becomes feasible to swiftly identify and resolve obstacles and issues.
To coordinate the implementation of these plans, we are establishing a Presidential Delivery Bureau (PDB) comprising of high-ranking officials from both the public and private sectors. They will collaborate with the line ministries to ensure effective coordination throughout the implementation phase.
Building the future
These reforms are designed to benefit the entire population and foster the development of the entire country. We aim to enhance the living conditions of all Sri Lankans, including you. Our program is not exclusive to any particular segment but targets the entire nation. By doing so, we can enhance Sri Lanka’s international competitiveness in exports and create new opportunities for labour participation amongst the youth, leading to a fully stabilized economy within the next five years.
Ultimately, our vision is to become a fully developed country by 2048, with the responsibility for continued progress passed on to the next generation. We are preparing our youth for this role, and I have full confidence that they will lead our motherland towards this objective.
This work methodology is a collective effort to build the future for all of us and to ensure a better tomorrow for future generations to come.
Therefore, I invite all Sri Lankans to join me in this journey to create our new and shared future our beautiful country”.
If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!
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