By Shamindra Ferdinando-April 12, 2017, 7:06 pm
Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella, yesterday said that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government wouldn’t give in to what he called a despicable political project undertaken by Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) on behalf of those who had been ousted at the January 2015 presidential poll.
MP Kiriella, who is also the Leader of the House, in a brief interview with The Island emphasised that the ongoing GMOA spearheaded campaign against the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) was meant to undermine and humiliate the government.”The GMOA leadership is working overtime for the Joint Opposition loyal to former President Rajapaksa,” Kandy District MP Kiriella said, adding that various people who had received benefits from the previous administration were busy.
“We have the strength to meet their challenge.”
Asked whether the government would seek a consensus with the GMOA in respect of the SAITM issue, Minister Kiriella said the parliament had been briefed and support was sought from relevant parties, including the GMOA to resolve the matter. The UNPer said that the four-point plan had been presented to parliament subject to the judgment of the Court of Appeal and the subsequent appeal made to the Supreme Court by the SLMC (Sri Lanka Medical Council). “We are ready to address the SAITM issue in line with judicial interventions. Unfortunately, the GMOA rejected our proposals, obviously at the behest of its political masters.”
The GMOA leadership had quite conveniently forgotten that the SAITM wouldn’t have been a reality if not for the previous government and extraordinary support given by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Kiriella said. Could there be anything as ridiculous as the GMOA forming a common front inclusive of the JO loyal to former President Rajapaksa against SAITM, he asked.
The UNP heavyweight emphasized the importance of stakeholders to the issue knowing the specific proposals made by the government. Minister Kiriella said that their proposals were (1) SAITM students who have already passed the final MBBS examination would be given a further period of clinical training in Surgery, Medicine, Gynecology and Obstetrics, Psychiatry and Paediatrics, one month each in duration, at the Homagama and Avissawella hospitals. (2) Subsequent to this training, candidates would undergo a mandatory examination conducted for granting provisional registration under the joint supervision of the SLMC and the University Grant Commission. (3) Ministry of Health would gazette the minimum standards for medical education in Sri Lanka submitted by the SLMC with the approval of AG. (4) Ministry of Health would initiate the proceedings to bring the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital under the Ministry of Health and continue to run as a teaching hospital.
Alleging that the GMOA functioned as a trade union affiliated to the JO, Minister Kiriella said their overall strategy was meant to cause chaos in every sector at the expense of both legally elected government and people. Kiriella said that the GMOA shouldn’t expect the government to dance to its tune and thereby give political advantage to the JO.
The Minister flayed the GMOA for rejecting government proposals even without discussing them with relevant parties. An irate Kiriella said that the GMOA should realize that it couldn’t enjoy special status as a trade union. The SAITM dispute or whatever the GMOA and those backing the campaign had chosen to call it, couldn’t be allowed to cause turmoil, Kiriella said, adding that the government was willing to discuss solutions on the basis of the four-point plan.
“We’ll not succumb to GMOA’s tactics”, he said.
The Kandy District MP said the government was planning to introduce Quality Assurance Bill soon to ensure proper monitoring of state as well as private educational institutions. Declaring that the project had received the World Bank backing, Minister Kiriella said that the GMOA couldn’t be unaware of the fact that the country required substantial public sector investments in the higher educational sector.
Having recognized the urgent need for sufficient public sector investments, the previous government paved the way for SAITM, Minister Kiriella said, underscoring the fact that the project got underway in the tail end of President Rajapaksa’s first term.
The Rajapaksa administration threw its weight behind SAITM though the JO now propagated lies, Minister Kiriella said. Having established SAITM in 2008, its management received from the University Grants Commission (UGC) right to award degrees in 2013, Minister Kiriella said. The minister recalled the circumstances under which the former President facilitated Rs 600 mn loan to SAITM. “We are not complaining about support given to the SAITM. The Issue is why one opposed a project once fully supported”, Minister Kiriella said.
The UNPer asserted that it was certainly not fair by those who had to suffer as a result of the GMOA crippling hospitals for political reasons. The Minister acknowledged that further trade union action was likely after Sinhala and Tamil New Year period.