Minister asked to clarify Dr. Godahewa’s claim of deliberate delay in Sinopharm use
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana says Health Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi should accept the blame for the poor management of the health sector during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
Dr. Bellana, in a brief interview with The Island, yesterday (26) discussed how the mismanagement on the part of the Health Minister contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation. “The whole operation is in chaos,” Dr. Bellana said, urging the government to take remedial measures immediately or face the consequences.
Asked whether it was fair to hold one person responsible for whatever the shortcomings or failures when the government’s effort was being handled at different levels, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva and DGHS (Director General Health Services) Dr Asela Gunawardena, Dr. Bellana emphasized the role and responsibilities of the Health Minister couldn’t be compared with that of political and military leaders.
Referring to a statement issued by the Health Ministry on May 21, Dr. Bellana said that Minister Wanniarachchi had accused the social media of carrying out an organized campaign against the ongoing inoculation drive. Dr. Bellana questioned the Minister’s strategy in warning the social media for what she called lies and propaganda whereas the inoculation campaign was under heavy fire from many quarters.
Dr. Bellana asked who would take the responsibility for not managing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine? Of 1,264,000 doses (500,000 donated by New Delhi, 500,000 bought also from the same source-Serum Institute, Pune, and the rest through Covax initiative), received in three stocks up to March 7, 925,000 were used in the first round. “Now, the government is struggling to procure over 600,000 Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines at any cost. This is a joke,” Dr. Bellana said, urging the cabinet of ministers to review the Health Ministry response to the threat.
Dr. Bellana alleged that Minister Wanniarachchi felt comfortable in dealing with the GMOA. How come the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) and Association of Medical Specialists weren’t given sufficient opportunity to take up issues or included in discussions opened for the GMOA.
Dr. Bellana said that Minister Wanniarachchi should pave the way for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to name a new Health Minister by stepping down on her own. Recalling the then MP and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila’s declaration that all ministers should be properly graded and sacked forthwith in case they failed to meet their responsibilities, Dr. Bellana said Minister Wanniarachchi should be dealt with.
The Health Ministry said that an investigation was underway into ongoing slandering campaign undertaken by the social media. The Ministry emphasized that there is no basis for accusations that whatever the type of Covid-19 vaccines could be procured for money through Ministry officials and those close to the Minister.
Dr. Bellana said that the Executive Committee of the GMOF after having discussed the continuing deterioration of the Covid-19 battle decided to seek President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention. The GMOF alleged that (1) Minister Wanniarachchi instead of giving leadership to the health staff divided them, (2) Minister Wanniarachchi being a cat’s paw of one union (GMOF was referring to the GMOA), (3) fails to work with relevant sectors, (4) Fails to unite senior officials of the Ministry, (5) Promotes myths instead of following proper procedures (6) Paves the way for corruption in the battle against Covid-19, (7) Appoints the retired instead of those suitable serving the health service, (8) Politically victimises workers, (9) Turns a blind eye to doctors promoting lies on television and (10) turns the inoculation drive to a joke.
Dr. Bellana said that the Health Minister should set the record straight. If the Minister believed she couldn’t perform as expected due to interference, then she should expose them.
Dr. Bellana pointed out that State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa recently acknowledged that the situation deteriorated due to nearly six weeks delay in using 600,000 Sinopharm doses in the government’s hands since March 30. Dr, Godahewa said that deaths could have been prevented if the Chinese vaccine was used in time. What would the Health Minister say to the State Minister’s statement? Was the delay deliberate as speculated by Dr Godahewa, Dr Bellana asked.
In a letter addressed to President Rajapaksa, the GMOF, having compared those who held the Health portfolio over the past 20 years or so with the incumbent, asserted that Minister Wanniarachchi is the worst.
People to get fuel price shock soon
The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes would be revealed soon.
The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.
“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.
Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.
The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.
The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)
HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody
Report called by June 13
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.
In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.
HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.
Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.
Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.
Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.
Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.
Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.
In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.
President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.
The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.
Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.
Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.
“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.
College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.
“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.
Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.
“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said
President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.
Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.
“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.
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