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SLMC crisis: AMS writes to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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The Association of Medical Specialists (AMS) warned that the questionable action by the Minister of Health to remove the president and four members of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) can adversely affect the stability, independence and reputation of the regulatory body.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is no provision in the present medical ordinance to remove the President or any member of SLMC by the Minister of Health before the end of their terms. Parliamentarian Tissa Vitarana had also expressed similar sentiments recently in Parliament”, AMS president, Dr. L. A. Ranasinghe says in a letter addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In his letter dated December 3, 2020, he said the AMS, which wholly comprises government medical and dental specialists, would like to draw attention to the unfortunate crisis situation in the SLMC.

The letter further said: “As you are aware, SLMC is an independent statutory institution which is responsible to look after the patient’s rights and safety and the standards of medical education and ethical medical practice in our country. In order to perform these important functions, SLMC has to be independent, stable and free from undue influences from political and trade union activities”.

The AMS noted that the Minister of Health recently appointed a five-member committee to investigate the conduct of the SLMC in order to address the complaints received against the SLMC. Upon receiving this committee’s recommendations, the Minister removed only the President and four members of SLMC before the end of their term of office. We find this action unfair and is detrimental to the stability of the medical council due to following reasons:

* Although the five-member committee found certain deficiencies and shortcomings of the SLMC, it never found specific wrongdoings of any particular member or group of members. It is in this background we feel it is unfair to remove only the president and four members before the end of their term. To our utter dismay, one such member removed by the Minister was Prof. Narada Warnasuriya, a highly-respected medical professional and a former Dean, Vice Chancellor and past president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

* We were reliably informed that when the SLMC delegation met and submitted the comprehensive 300 page document related to the terms of references to the five-member committee, the SLMC delegation clearly stated that all the relevant decisions taken by the SLMC members are binding in nature. The signatories to this written submission included Prof. Vajira Dissanayake, who is the Minister’s present nominee for the post of SLMC president. Hence, it is unfair to single out any member of the SLMC for whatever deficiencies or shortcomings found by the five-member committee, unless there is another specific inquiry for that purpose.

* AMS strongly objects to the recommendation of the five-member committee regarding the long overdue election of four specialists from the specialists registry to SLMC. The five- member committee has proposed for a “separate election later when the specialist registry is completed and sanctioned”. This recommendation is baseless and unacceptable as the specialists registry is now established and more than adequate time was given for specialists to apply for the specialist registration and no further sanction is needed as this election and the other components of the specialist registry was passed as an act of parliament in 2018 (Act no 28 of 2018). We firmly believe that this is a subtle and sinister attempt to postpone the election of medical specialists to SLMC to satisfy a certain trade union who wants to take over the control of SLMC.

The letter added: “We were reliably informed that the change of Presidency at the SLMC can lead to recommencement of all disciplinary inquiries from the beginning affecting both the complainants and the defendants of such proceedings.

“The AMS believes that the above mentioned irregularities happened primarily due to the wrong composition of the five-member committee appointed by the Minister of Health. As we have pointed out to the Minister earlier, this committee included two very active members and a past active member of certain trade union which was the main complainant against the SLMC.

“This improper composition removed the impartiality of this committee, which came up with biased and unfair recommendations. It’s of paramount importance to maintain the independence, stability and the good reputation of SLMC in order to perform its statutory function of regulations of medical practice to ensure patient’s rights and safety. Anything to the contrary can also adversely affect the recognition of Sri Lankan medical degrees by the foreign medical councils causing a major obstacle for overseas training of medical post graduates. In the past the SLMC itself, AMS and other patient rights groups have proposed to change the medical ordinance so that other relevant non medical professionals like retired judges, eminent lawyers and accountants can be appointed as a certain proportion to SLMC as council members.

“This will ensure a more holistic and transparent approach to decision making of SLMC in line with internationally accepted standards”.

Taking these facts into consideration, the AMS has asked the President to reconsider and reverse the decision to remove the President and four members of the SLMC in order to maintain the independence and the stability of the independent body.

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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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