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Sacking of SLMC president, council members sparks a furore

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Health Minister’s move ‘completely flawed’

bY SURESH PERERA

The sacking of the president and four members nominated to the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) by the previous government has triggered an uproar, with medical professionals slamming Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi’s move as “completely flawed” and “an attempt to undermine the autonomy and independence of the apex regulatory body”.

Expressing consternation over his sudden dismissal as the president of the statutory body, eminent Specialist Consultant Paediatrician, Prof. Harendra de Silva, said he was contemplating legal action against his removal by the Minister.

“I will be challenging my dismissal in the Court of Appeal”, he said.

In terms of the Medical Ordinance, there is no provision to remove the president or any of the four council members nominated by the serving Health Minister of the time, he asserted.

“Before I was informed of my termination, some Health Ministry officials urged me to resign, but I declined to do so”, Dr. de Silva told The Sunday Island.

Pressure was also exerted on the other four members of the council to step down, he noted. “However, we collectively stood our ground and refused to throw in the towel”.

“It was after I dismissed the overtures calling for my resignation that a letter indicating that I have been removed as SLMC president was sent across”, he further said.

Prof. Narada Warnasuriya and Dr. Pushpika Ubesiri, two of the other council members who were dismissed, said that they will also be seeking legal redress over their removal in “contravention of the Medical Ordinance”.

Apart from them, the other two ‘Minister’s nominees’, as they are called, who were given the marching orders were Dr. Upul Gunasekara and Dr. Sunil Ratnapriya. However, there was still no word on the four new nominees of the Minister.

Under the Medical Ordinance, the serving Health Minister can name the president and four nominees to the 25-member council. Apart from the Minister’s nominees, the other members are drawn on the basis of one each (generally the Dean) from Faculties of Medicine, and other diverse medical spheres. The Director-General of Health Services is an ex-officio member.

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has four elected representatives in the council – Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, Dr. Naveen de Zoysa, Dr. Nalinda Herath and Dr. Harris Pathirage. However, Dr. Pathirage has since resigned from the council citing personal reasons, GMOA Assistant Secretary, Dr. Chandana Dharmaratne said.

The SLMC election was on the cards but had to be put off indefinitely due to the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.

Though the Health Minister claimed that the dismissal of the SLMC president and the four nominated council members was based on the findings of the five-member committee appointed by her, that’s not the factual position, said Dr. L. A. Ranasinghe, president of the Association of Medical Specialists (AMS).

“Contrary to the Minister’s assertion in her letter to the SLMC president, personal communications we had with some of the committee members (Dr. Hemantha Perera and Dr. Anula Wijesundara) indicated that they had not singled out any member or the president in their report as responsible person/s for the deficiencies of the SLMC. Neither did they recommended the removal of anyone from the council”, he noted.

According to the committee members, the whole council is responsible for their decisions and actions and not individual members (similar to collective responsibility of Cabinet decisions), he explained.

As far as we know, there is no legal provision for the Minister to remove the SLMC president or any member according to his/her wishes without following the regulations stipulated in the Medical Ordinance, Dr. Ranasinghe remarked.

The process the Health Minister followed is completely flawed and purely based on the agenda of a trade union. This has created a very bad precedent that could be “the first step towards undermining the autonomy and independence of the SLMC”, which is tasked with the regulation of Sri Lanka’s medical profession, the AMS chief further said.

The SLMC is facing a crisis never witnessed in its recent history, he continued, while urging the Health Minister to reverse her decision immediately to avoid unnecessary turbulence in the field of medicine in this hour of dire need.

The five-member committee Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi appointed in September 2020 to “look into the activities of the SLMC” comprised Specialist Prof. Hemantha Perera, former Dean of the Ragama Medical Faculty, Specialist Prof. Prashantha Wijesinghe, Specialist Dr. Anula Wijesundera, Specialist Dr. Maithri Chandraratne and Specialist Dr. Dharshana Sirisena.

The Minister said at the time that the SLMC is an independent body established by a charter and its primary function is to maintain a quality medical service by protecting the rights of patients. The institution protects the quality of medical education and regulates physicians.

Under Section 15 of the Medical Ordinance, the president/council member is deemed to have vacated his post in the event of death, resignation, declared insolvent or bankrupt by a competent court, found guilty by a court of law, cancellation of medical registration, non-attendance of three consecutive board meetings or being away from the country for a period of one year or more, medical officials said.

“Whatever the reasons adduced, the crux of the matter here is that the present regime was not comfortable with a president and council that was appointed by former Health Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne under the UNP administration”, they claimed.

“The reality of the situation was that the incumbent Health Minister buckled under pressure from the GMOA to sack the SLMC president and the four nominated members”,

With the appointment of Prof. Vajira H. W. Dissanayake, the Dean of Colombo Medical Faculty, as the new SLMC president, the GMOA welcomed what it called the “restoration of the independence and dignity” of the statutory body.

GMOA Secretary, Dr. Senal Fernando charged that that former Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne interfered with the functions of the SLMC by appointing his henchmen to the council, which resulted in more than one thousand individuals, who failed all three subjects at the Advanced Level examination, being registered as doctors.

He further accused the SLMC of undermining medical education by striking out three recognized Russian universities from the list of foreign universities recognized by Sri Lanka. These higher seats of learning included the world-renowned Patrice Lumumba University, which admit Sri Lankan students for medical degrees.

Expressing dismay over the developments, the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) said that never in Sri Lanka’s history has a Health Minister of a government elected to power interfered with the SLMC in this manner by dismissing the nominees of the previous Minister.

Over the years, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Maithripala Sirisena and Rajitha Senaratne, as Health Ministers, respected the independence of the SLMC and the appointments made to it by their predecessors, says GMOF president, Dr. Rukshan Bellana.

They are trying to politicize the SLMC, he charged. “The incumbent Health Minister is giving into the dictates of the GMOA and lost her sense of direction as a result”.

President of the Public Service United Nurses Union, Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, said the Health Minister has no right to meddle with the SLMC, which is an independent regulatory body.

Members to the SLMC are nominated to the SLMC for a five-year term by an incumbent Health Minister and dismissing them before they complete their tenure violates the Medical Ordinance, the prelate noted.

He said that health services in the country have plunged to a new low so much so it is more apt to describe the Health Ministry as “Unhealthy Ministry”.

The mess in the health sector could have been prevented if there was at least a secretary with a backbone in charge of the ministry, he asserted.

The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) was established in 1998 as a statutory body. It replaced the former Ceylon Medical Council formed in 1924.

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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims

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The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.

 

 

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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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