By Yoshitha Perera
Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Rajitha Senaratne yesterday informed the Presidential Commission that the Cabinet has granted the approval on acquiring assets of the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH). The Ministry of Health will sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the management of NFTH. The government had carried out a feasibility study on NFTH in 2019. In February 2019, the Cabinet had informed the Health Ministry to come up with a business plan to make NFTH a viable commercial enterprise. All necessary documents were presented to the Cabinet and was approved on September 12, Senaratne said. “The Cabinet also approved an MoU to be signed between NFTH, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Higher Education,” he said. The MoU is to be signed shortly.
According to the advice obtained from the Attorney General’s (AG) Department the Ministry would sign a tri-party agreement to acquire NFTH to the government.
Chairman of the Presidential Commission, retired Supreme Court Judge Upali Abeyrathne instructed the Secretary to the PCoI to procure another copy of the Cabinet Paper from the Cabinet Secretary as there was a difficulty in ascertaining the date of the cabinet paper. Senaratne also said that the decision to take over NFTH and South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine were taken on the recommendation of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Education and Human Resources Development. “If you look at the joint cabinet paper on June 23, 2017 by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Higher Education, you will see that our suggestions are exactly what the Sectoral Oversight Committee had proposed.”
“Until the MoU on acquiring NFTH assets, approved by the Cabinet, is signed, the ownership of NFTH lies with the owner of NFTH, Dr. Neville Fernando,” Chairman said. Senaratne’s attention was also brought to the fact that Urban Development Authority (UDA) refused a request by the Ministry of Health to give a letter confirming that the UDA would not cancel a lease agreement it had with SAITM, for the land on which it was built.
The Minister said that the ultimate authority of state land lies with the Commissioner of Lands, although organisations like Road Development Authority (RDA) and UDA assume that the land they hold belongs to them. However the PCoI informed the minister that this was a land that the UDA had purchased from a private owner, thus the institution having more authority on the land. “I didn’t know this. I was not informed of this before,” Minister said.
However, Chairman of the Commission, retired Supreme Court Judge Upali Aberatne said that just putting only an MoU is inadequate and the Ministry should follow sufficient legal procedures to acquire NFTH. “During a considerable time which had been passed with this government I cannot do anything with regard to the NFTH because there were lots of confusions,” he said. The Chairman also questioned that why the ministry has to drag so long to obtain the title of NFTH and urged the Minister to soon look into the procedures, failing which same issues will repeat.
Meanwhile, Minister Senaratne notified to the Commission that the NFTH had so far treated 464,918 patients. The government has shelled out Rs. 385 million, within a period of 11 months from August 2017 and July 2018, to maintain the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) though it did not own it, Wasantha Perera, Secretary to the Ministry of Health told the PCoI in May.