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GMOA takes strong stand, urges Defence Consultative Committee to re-examine project



National Defence University Bill:

‘Uni outside purview of UGC, SLMC, etc., inimical to education system’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top Government Medical Officers’ Association  (GMOA) spokesperson Dr. Prasad Colambage says the enactment of the General Sir John Kotelawela National Defence University Bill will create an institution outside the purview of the University Grants Commission (UGC) as well as the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC). The proposed University wouldn’t be subject to regulatory bodies of engineering, law and public administration, Dr. Colambage asserts.

 In a brief interview with The Island the GMOA official said that the controversial move was contrary to much touted assurances given by the Joint Opposition (JO)/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliament elections. Referring to the failed bid to enact the Bill during the previous yahapalana administration, Dr. Colombage said that they were quite disappointed at the way the incumbent dispensation handled the issue at hand.

 He strongly denied accusations that the GMOA was pursuing an agenda inimical to government efforts to expand higher education opportunities.

 Responding to another query, Dr. Colambage attributed a last minute decision not to present the Bill in Parliament on July 08 to an obvious split in the ruling party. The Consultative Committee on Defence at a meeting chaired by State Minister of National Security and Disaster Management and State Minister of Home Affairs Chamal Rajapaksa was earlier scheduled to table the Bill in Parliament, Dr. Colambage said. Appreciating the decision not to present the Bill for the second reading , Dr. Colombage said that under the leadership of Vice President of the GMOA Dr. Chandika Epitakaduwa a committee was examining the Bill as well as the one prepared by the previous administration.

When The Island questioned the rationale in the GMOA’s opposition to the Bill against the backdrop of it being sanctioned by the Legal Draftsman and the Attorney General, Dr. Colambage said that the whole process in the enactment of laws was dubious. The GMOA official alleged that various interested parties had been pursuing agendas in that regard under the very noses of those who were supposed to ensure national interest. The possibility of some lawmakers being aparty to projects disadvantageous to the country couldn’t be ruled out, Dr. Colambage said.

“Yes, it is certainly a very unfortunate situation. A key issue is whether the Parliament can be exploited by those pursuing agendas for personal benefit,” Dr. Colombage said.

The GMOA official emphasised that the Bill in its present form was not acceptable under any circumstances. How could those in authority seek to establish an institution through parliamentary Act contrary to the Universities Act No 16 of 1978? Dr. Colombage asked.

 The Communications Department of the Parliament on July 7 quoted Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne as having told Consultative Committee on Defence chaired by State Minister Chamal Rajapaksa the then President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Defence Minister made an attempt to enact the Bill. SLFP leader and Polonnaruwa District MP Sirisena according to the Communications Department had been present at the meeting along with Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Tiran Alles and Jayantha Weerasinghe, PC.

 Dr. Colambage urged all political parties represented in Parliament to state their stand on the proposed Bill. The Parliament comprises 15 political parties with the SLPP being the largest with 145 seats followed by the SJB 54 and the TNA 10. Of the political parties in Parliament, nine are represented by one MP each.

Asked whether the GMOA intended to discuss the issue at hand with political parties, Dr. Colambage said that once Dr. Epitakaduwa made his report available within the next few days, stakeholders could be briefed. Parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility to thwart calculated attempts to deteriorate higher education sector, Dr Colambage alleged. The official stressed that their objections to the proposed Bill was not political. The primary issues here were that the Bill would result in the creation of a University managed by the military and selection of students outside the Z score, the GMOA spokesperson said.

Dr. Colambage was of the opinion that an independent University would cause deterioration of the entire higher education system and open the country for all sorts of external interventions. It could be a long term objective of interested parties to weaken the once proud University system at a time other countries were bent on tightening laws.

Outspoken GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando in a statement issued on Monday (12) speculated that the proposed Bill would pave the way for militarisation of the higher education system.

Dr. Colambage said that the GMOA received the backing of student groups and trade unions though the government sought to discourage ongoing protests against the Bill. According to him, a major fault in the proposed Bill was that it would allow admission of students without minimum qualifications. The Bill should be examined against the backdrop of reports that those without basic qualifications had been accommodated in Universities over the years, Dr. Colambage said.

 “Our systems are fallible. There is no point in denying that fact,” Dr. Colambage said, alleging unscrupulous elements had proved over and over again systems at any level could be manipulated regardless of catastrophic consequences.  “The ongoing high profile project to provide special status to KDU is case in point,” Dr. Colambage said, underscoring how influential persons sustained the operation in spite of the change of government in 2019. The role played by the Consultative Committee on Defence and the stand taken by different political parties on the KDU issue reflected the present crisis, Dr. Colombage said.

According to Dr. Colambage the KDU project could easily secure the support of those willing to exploit an opportunity to make gains at the expense of the national interest. The GMOA official said that the media should seriously cover the developments regarding the KDU matter.

Referring to the controversial circumstances under which Sri Lanka entered into Singapore-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (2018), Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) (2017), Geneva Resolution (2015) and the way attempts were made to finalize Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact as well as Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Dr. Colambage said that the country lacked overall strategy in that regard. Those in authority seemed to be disinterested in working out a common agenda, Dr. Colambage said, urging the government to review contentious KDU Bill.

 The GMOA official asserted that the decision to hold back the Bill which was to be presented for the second reading was certainly a victory. They wouldn’t have done that lightly therefore it would be the responsibility of the Consultative Committee on Defence to consult all relevant parties in that regard. The incumbent government wouldn’t want to go down in history as the dispensation responsible for the ruination of the University system. The powerful doctors’ union said that deterioration of higher education standards couldn’t be permitted for the benefit of corrupt elements whose success largely depended on the failure of the political party system.

Dr. Colambage said that the crisis could be easily resolved by accommodating the KDU with 11 faculties within the University system. The controversial Bill had been there for 12 years and first major attempt to operationalise it was made in 2018. 

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Appointment of GM led to CEB chief’s resignation?



By Ifham Nizam

Amidst further deterioration of the power crisis, the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) M.M.C. Ferdinando has tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In a letter to the President, the Attorney-at-Law said that he is quitting due to personal reasons. Ferdinando will resign as Chairman/Member of the Electricity Board with effect from Feb. 1.

Sources close to Ferdinando said that the incumbent CEB Chairman did not want to be in that position following the appointment of Eng. Dr. D.C.R. Abeysekera as CEB General Manager. Abeysekera received his letter of appointment from Ferdinando on Tuesday (25).

Abeysekera received the appointment at the expense of Dr. Susantha Perera, whose designation as the GM on a temporary basis was resisted by the engineers’ union as he is a retiree.

Retired public servant Ferdinando was brought in as the CEB Chairman on July 19, last year soon after Sri Lanka entered into what was called a framework agreement with the US energy firm, New Fortress Energy. The agreement now challenged in the Supreme Court was finalised on 17 Sept, last year with Ferdinando endorsing it as an Advisor to the Finance Ministry.

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UK indicates sanctions against Lanka military



By Shamindra Ferdinnado

Close on the heels of UK Foreign Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad’s three-day visit here, the House of Commons has been told that measures were being contemplated as regards the Sri Lankan military.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Minister Amanda Milling has told Parliament that the government regularly engaged with the US and other partners on issues relating to Sri Lanka. She has further said: “The UK government keeps all evidence and potential designations under the UK Global Human Rights sanctions regime under close review, guided by the objectives of the sanctions regime. We would not normally speculate about future sanctions targets, as to do so could reduce their impact.”

The Conservative Party member was responding to Labour Party’s Siobhain McDonagh on Tuesday (25). MP Milling was responding to a query McDonagh posed to the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Elizabeth Truss, what assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the sanctions imposed by the US on General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan army.

The US in Feb 2020 imposed a travel ban on General Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Recently, the US extended its action against the Sri Lankan military by issuing travel ban on retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera.

The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has commended the British stand.

Concerned Lankan military sources said that the UK in its capacity as the leader of Sri Lanka Core Group at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was planning further measures ahead of the next human rights sessions.

UK based sources told The Island that that type of written parliamentary question was usually answered by a government minister from the FCDO.

Sources explained as this particular question dealt with Sri Lanka, the minister responsible was Lord Tariq Ahmad, but as he represented the House of Lords he couldn’t make statements in the Commons chamber.

Sources added that it would be rare that a question on Sri Lanka would be directly responded to by the Foreign Secretary Truss

Commons member Amanda Milling is Minister of State for Asia, therefore her portfolio closely matches Tariq Ahmad’s brief.

Incidentally, the FCDO now has a British Tamil in a senior position. Maya Sivagnanam is South Asia Deputy Director for the Indian Ocean Region at the FCDO.

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JCPSM token strike cripples hospitals in Western Province



Strikers want Health Ministry to solve their problems within 10 days

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Joint Council of Professions Supplementary to Medicine (JCPSM) launched a 24-hour token strike yesterday (26) at 7 am at all hospitals in the Western Province. It consists of 16 unions.

The JCPSM has urged the government to address its members’s grievances including salary anomalies and issues related promotions. The strike had crippled hospitals in the province, Health Ministry sources said.

The JCPSM said emergency care, essential services and the treatment of COVID patients had not been affected by the strike.

President of the Government Nurses’ Association and former UNP National List MP Saman Rathnapriya said they had been urging the government to solve their problems for the past two months.

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island that they would end the token strike by 7 am today m(27) and thereafter give the government 10 days to address their demands.

“We will launch a continuous strike if the demands are not met within 10 days,” he said.

President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) Dr. Rukshan Bellana said that most unions seemed to have lost the ability to solve disputes through negotiations.

“The unions have become too politicised, and the people are suffering as a result.”

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