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Foot-dragging on appointing new DGHS cause concern amidst fresh Covid flare-up

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BY SURESH PERERA

The vacuum created by the inordinate delay in appointing a new Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) — the highest technical position in the government health service –- has caused grave concern among medical circles, particularly at a time a fresh wave of the deadly Covid-19 virus has erupted with more than one thousand positive cases identified so far in a garment factory cluster in the Gampaha district.

Since the then DGHS, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, was moved out in a surprise development in mid August this year, the top position has continued to remain vacant for almost two months.

However, applications were recently called from prospective candidates with an October 16, 2020 deadline – a process that will take at least another month from the given date for shortlisting candidates, interviews, selections and follow-up paper work for Cabinet approval, health officials said.

Dr. Jasinghe, a respected consultant specialist cum senior medical administrator, who played a pivotal role in curbing the initial coronavirus outbreak in March this year, was shifted abruptly to the Environment Ministry as its secretary, a move that was described as being “kicked upstairs” to head an institution, where his medical experience and expertise were totally irrelevant.

As a Cabinet sanctioned appointment, the DGHS is the competent authority in enforcing a plethora of crucial health-related laws, including the Quarantine Act, Food and Drugs Act, Tobacco Act and Transplant Act.

Under the circumstances, a non functioning full-time DGHS or an acting appointment, which has not received Cabinet approval, could impede the full and proper enforcement of relevant laws pertaining to public health and safety especially at a critical time when quarantine regulations are being rigidly enforced, the officials asserted.

The appointment of a relatively junior medical administration in an “acting capacity” on the basis of a temporary “working arrangement” initiated by a health sector panjandrum has raised eyebrows because he cannot enforce the specific regulations as the competent authority without Cabinet giving the nod to his purported “acting appointment”, they said.

In terms of the medical services minute gazetted in 2014, the position of DGHS can be held only by a medical administrator of Deputy Director-General of Health Services grade. Under the marking scheme, three shortlisted candidates will face an interview and, thereafter, their names will be placed before Cabinet by the subject Minister in charge, who will make a recommendation for approval.

However, over the past 20 years, the medical services minute has been amended at least thrice with the selection procedure changed, the officials claimed.

With the exit of Dr. Jasinghe, who served as DGHS from 2017-2020, the senior-most medical administrator in line now is Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, one of the most qualified consultant specialists in Sri Lanka.

However, with the powers-that-be having a big say in the appointment to the top administrative slot in the government health segment, as seen in many cases in the past, the possibility of Dr. de Silva being given what he deserves appears to hang in the balance, medical officials claimed.

Indications are that he may be edged out notwithstanding his academic achievements, seniority and competence as the most-senior medical administrator, they opined. “Tail- waggers should not be given precedence over conscientious professionals who have proven their worth”.

Prior to Dr. Jasinghe, senior medical administrators who served as DGHS were dental surgeon Dr. Jayasundara Bandara (2016-2017), additional secretary Dr. Palitha Maheepala (2012- 2016), Dr. Ajith Mendis (2008-2012), Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage (2003-2008) and consultant gastro urinary surgeon Dr. A. M. L. Beligaswatte (2000-2003).

Meanwhile, the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) said that Sri Lanka did tremendously well to contain the community spread of Covid-19. However, it is regrettable the DGHS position in the health sector still remains vacant especially at a critical juncture when the country is again facing a grave coronavirus threat.

“All these years, it was under the leadership of the DGHS that our country was able to overcome the threat of pandemics. Dr. Anil Jasinghe did a marvelous job until he was suddenly moved to a ministry alien to him”, GMOF media secretary, Dr. Niroshana Premaratne said in a statement.

At a time Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented health crisis, the public expected the next-in-line to be appointed DGHS immediately. But, two months have gone by with no appointment still in sight despite the country plunging again into the throes of a severe Covid-19 crisis, the trade union stressed.

“At first, we welcomed the appointment of retired Major General, Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe as secretary to the Health Ministry in May this year because it is medical administrators who have largely guided the health sector to greater heights over the decades. As witnessed in the past, particularly during 2015-2020, civil administrators as health secretaries fell short of the expected performance”, the GMOF noted.

The incumbent health secretary is a big disappointment as even senior officials, including DDGs and directors, cannot access him. Unlike earlier, when senior staff could walk directly into the secretary’s office to sort out issues, they have to now kick their heels for hours outside his door. With an indifferent and inaccessible secretary coupled with the absence of a permanent DGHS has turned the whole health sector topsy-turvy, the statement asserted.

“This callous attitude of the health secretary doesn’t portend well for the forward movement of the country’s health sector in general and public safety and welfare in particular”, the GMOF complained.

“We believe that a conspiracy led to the ousting of Dr. Anil Jasinghe because, as a competent medical professional, he led from the front, called a spade a spade and did what needed to be done without ‘boru shows’ and dramas”, the GMOF noted.

If the then DGHS was moved out for a genuine reason, the health secretary should have lined up the next senior-most medical administrator to step in immediately taking into consideration the grave situation the country is now facing, the statement continued.

As a Cabinet approved appointment, the DGHS is vested with powers to enforce around 100 health-related Acts. However, for the past two months, neither a permanent nor an acting appointment has been made by Cabinet. What was done instead was the health secretary, who is not the appointing authority in the first place, making a temporary appointment to ‘oversee duties’, the statement further said.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is a deadly situation in the world. What Sri Lanka needs at this point of time is not a puppet as DGHS, but a clever and competent medical administrator who can guide the nation in its hour of need. An autocratic style of management is not the answer to the grave crisis at hand”, it added.

It is clear that there is resistance to appoint the most deserving senior DDG as the next DGHS. The country cannot afford to pay for the sins of an insensitive official best described as a “square peg in a round hole”, who lord over the unfolding scenario within the comfort of his ivory tower, the statement noted.

The GMOF said it was pathetic to see how the Health Ministry forced doctors to go on transfers at a time the country was on alert for the pandemic. This was done at the insistence of a certain trade union. In addition, the Ministry, in contravention of all norms, conducted a program at a cost of Rs. 4 million for those awaiting internships, while the trade union was allowed to charge Rs. 4,000 from each of the 1,500 participants, who were still not even employed.

Repeated attempts by The Sunday Island to contact the health secretary for comment since last Tuesday were unsuccessful as his mobile phone went unanswered.

“How can you get through to him when even those under the same roof cannot access him?”, a health sector official laughed.

“As an option, you can try your luck by coming over here and waiting outside his door for a couple of hours”, he suggested.

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COPE meets online for first time in its history

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by Saman Indrajith

The Parliamentary watchdog committee – COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) created a history by meeting online for the first time ever on Thursday.

The COPE had Secretaries of three Ministries joining in with its committee meeting through online (ZOOM) becoming the second parliamentary committee holding an online meeting in the country.

Thursday evening’s COPE meeting chaired by its chairman Prof. Charitha Herath connected online with Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Dr) H. S. Munasinghe, Secretary to the Ministry of Industries W. A. Chulananda Perera and, Secretary to the Ministry of Public Services, Provincial Councils and Local Government J. J. Ratnasiri via zoom technology.

The Environmental Audit Report on water pollution of the Kelani River was brought before the committee and the meeting held between the Chairman Prof. Herath, Ministers and Members of Parliament and secretaries and other officials continued without any technical hitches.

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake said that facilities have been provided to hold meetings and discussions using online technology in two committee rooms in Parliament.

He said that Parliamentary officials had been working relentlessly for months to install the requisite technological tools and that the efforts have borne fruit and future Parliamentary meetings could be held online as a result.

The Committee on High Posts under the chairmanship of Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena also held a discussion with the new Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Kenya, who was living in Kampala, using online technology recently.

 

 

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Legatum Prosperity Index highlights SL’s development of education and healthcare sectors

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During the past decade

One of the key highlights of this year’s Legatum Prosperity Index was the improvement in Sri Lanka’s education and healthcare sectors over the past decade. These improvements were key to increase in prosperity within Sri Lanka, it was noted.

The London-based think-tank Legatum Institute launched the 14th Legatum Prosperity Index on November 17 2020.

The event commenced with the welcome address by the Chair of the Legatum Institute, Alan McCormick. 

Addressing the audience, the Chief Executive Officer of the Legatum Institute, The Baroness Stroud said that according to the Legatum Index, the global prosperity was at its highest level ever with 147 countries seeing their prosperity rise over the last decade.

Speaking at the launch, the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the UK, Saroja Sirisena said that the end of the terrorist conflict in 2009 and the ensuing peace dividend, led Sri Lanka to achieve steady progress within the last decade.

She highlighted that the universal free education and healthcare policies of the country over seven decades are the pillars on which prosperity is built.

Director of Policy of the Legatum Institute, Dr. Stephen Brien explained to the audience as to how the Legatum Index is used to measure prosperity across the world.

The event was also addressed by the Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in Africa, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Biologist and Writer, Matt Ridley and Ambassador of Georgia in the UK Sophie Katsarava.

Legatum Prosperity Index is a global index that analyses the performance of 167 nations across 65 policy-focused elements, measured by almost 300 country level indicators and it is the only global index that measures national prosperity based on institutional, economic and social wellbeing.

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Quick Snacks and Party Recipes from North India with Sapna Mehra

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The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC), High Commission of India, Colombo, will be holding an online cookery demonstration on ‘Snack Time: Quick Snacks and Party Recipes from North India’ on December 5 at 11.00 am on its FACEBOOK page https://www.facebook.com/ICCRSriLanka.

This festival season, the Cultural Centre will present a virtual cookery demonstration by Sapna Mehra. Cooking has been a passionate hobby of Sapna since her childhood days. Growing up in a large family of 17 members, she was very keen on bringing variety to the dining table, and that’s when her cooking journey began, preparing simple wraps, and snacks.

She now specializes in cooking dishes from a variety of cuisines. Originally from Bangalore, she has lived in many cities across India and Sri Lanka, and at present resides in Delhi.

She has a Postgraduate degree in Marketing and has over 12 years work experience in the professional field.

All are cordially invited to attend. For more details, contact the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre on telephone No: 2684698 or Email: iccrcolombo2@gmail.com

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