The most apt portfolio of all is that of Lakshman Kiriella, said the three-wheeler driver, while we were caught in the traffic for almost half an hour, near the Kohuwela Junction on Wednesday afternoon last.
When I asked him what he actually meant, he said:
“Well its Ministry of Higher Education and Highways. So, every week he keeps undergrads on the roads now.”
That sarcasm, that cynicism and making fun out of all this anarchy does not lift this society out of the chaos we are fast slipping into.
Much has been written about the SAITM issue and the hooliganism in the medical profession, that has not had any impact on medical practitioners in general and the citizens who are passive victims.
Nor has the Government taken any worthy steps in resolving the growing menace spilling into the roads on a weekly basis. This now is just anarchy, shamelessly driven by a few Mafiaso in the GMOA and an aimless IUSF.
The not so long history of this SAITM issue reveals a lot about the mafia in the GMOA leadership and it’s petty opportunism. People by now have forgotten that SAITM had other fee levying courses on management and technology that were never opposed.
Its medical faculty began in 2010 and Prof Carlo Fonseka was the one who approved university status to it by the UGC in November 2011. Prof. Fonseka was thereafter appointed to the Chair of the SLMC on the request of President Rajapaksa on January 2, 2012.
Earlier that the GMOA leadership had its own committee headed by Dr. Padeniya to evaluate the medical degree at SAITM. The Padeniya Committee found SAITM lacking in clinical and community health training and concluded the standard was not adequate for registration with the SLMC as medical practitioners.
The SAITM issue to date saw three SLMC Chairpersons including Prof. Carlo Fonseka idling during the tenure of President Rajapaksa, without taking any serious and workable solution in clearing the SAITM medical faculty lapses.
The same GMOA leadership also played hide and seek with the Rajapaksa regime unnecessarily dragging it for five years from 2010 to 2015 August.
Both parties, the GMOA leadership and the SLMC led by Prof. Carlo Fonseka suddenly woke up to oppose SAITM after the August 2015 Parliamentary elections.
One does not need to dwell any further in elaborating on their politics.
With this sudden waking up after the defeat of Rajapaksa, there is a clear sign of anarchy on the roads. The IUSF is nothing but a political cat’s paw of the “Narodnya Volya” type, Frontline Socialist Party (FSP). The FSP has a history of anarchism.
Before its student gang (The IUSF) broke into the Health Ministry premises, in April 2016 they stormed the Immigration Office demanding the release of their leader Gunaratnam. It was the FSP that tagged IUSF with the GMOA to have their protests on the streets. For the GMOA leadership undergrads on the roads gave a major lift in their post Rajapaksa anti-SAITM campaign.
Demands on SAITM were thus changed over the past one year.
It began with modest protests over standards on clinical and community health training. The GMOA leadership thereafter opposed fixing up quality, for that would have ended the issue once and for all.
Instead they moved to a new demand. They then said the SLMC should not under any condition register any SAITM medical graduate.
That was contested in Courts and the ruling allowed registration. While the SLMC under Prof. Fonseka decided to appeal against the court ruling, with the IUSF on the roads, the demand was changed again to save “Free Education” (None of them knows what it means). Now it is a Shylock type demand, wanting a total closure of SAITM.
Even after the 2015 August elections, this Government too sat over the SAITM issue for one year and 11 months for now without a firm decision.
Vacillation and hesitancy on the part of the Government and its Cabinet of Ministers making contradictory statements on SAITM, the GMOA and the IUSF had seized this Government inactivity to agitate on the roads.
The GMOA took it as their strength to decide strike action as they pleased. Buddhist monks and other clergy pleading with these protesters to have some compassion on patients during the dengue epidemic, provide undue legitimacy to these anarchist politics.
What is this ‘do or die battle’ over SAITM worth in terms of “free” education?
Closing down of the SAITM will have absolutely no relevance to whatever is meant by “free education” these dumb protesters shout on the streets. These irrational, idiotic protests have nothing to do with “free education”.
It had been very clearly said many times before, there is nothing “free” in education. The cost of education is either borne by parents privately or paid for by the citizens through direct and indirect taxes collected by the Government.
That was why FUTA wanted a six per cent allocation in the annual budget for education. Calculations made last year with the Government allocating Rs.163 billion for higher education and Rs.77 billion for education, showed that every adult citizen counted as 15 million voters pay around Rs.16,000 annually for education through direct and indirect taxes.
In a society where 80 per cent of Government revenue is from indirect taxes, every beggar on the street contributes to State funded education from Grade I to the final year at university.
It is also wrong to say, that there is no fee levying in Government schools. There is still the provision to levy school fees as “Facilities Fees” in Government schools.
In most schools, especially in rural areas, it is not done for the convenience of teachers. There is also provision for Principals to collect funds in all Government schools.
Most maintenance expenses the State bore in the past have now been gradually transferred to parents. Parents now pay for building repairs. Spend on annual colour washing. Past pupils have taken over expansion needs through fund raising. All parents have to now pay for their children’s after school tuition that is almost mandatory in a thriving private tuition industry.
What “free” education are these anarchist protests trying to save by closing SAITM?
There is nothing “free” even at the Open University of Sri Lanka maintained on public funds.
Clearly a political campaign the tax payers are indirectly funding
Calculations made last year with the Government allocating Rs.163 bn for higher education and Rs.77 bn for education, showed that every adult citizen pay around Rs.16,000 annually for education
Closing down of the SAITM will have absolutely no relevance to whatever is meant by “free education”
A student protest, with GMOA leadership against SAITM, has nothing to do with improving the quality of medical education and its profession.
The cost of education is either borne by parents privately or paid for by the citizens through direct and indirect taxes.
Most State universities have fee levying certificate, diploma and degree courses going un-opposed by these “free education” saviours.
International schools, registered as private companies have become part of national education with unregulated fee levying. From pre-school to higher education, parents spend a fair percentage of their hard earned income on education of their children in what these anarchist protesters call a “free education” system.
This is plain opportunist politics played out without direct participation of the Parliamentary Joint Opposition.
With this Government’s impotence in taking decisions and implementing them quick and firm, these protests have gathered momentum with half hearted solutions offered, but rejected without any serious negotiations. Every round of protests has thus been turned more violent than the previous protest. Worst is that people tolerate all this with just a grumble.
The unseen and unaccounted for damage for the tax-paying public is colossal.
What use of the tax payers money spent on universities during the past half year? All the lost days in university education, does not go without cost. What cost was it for the citizens who paid for education? While these undergrads were on the streets violently trespassing on State land, blocking traffic, inconveniencing the public, every citizen of this country was paying to keep universities open, paying the salaries of all academic and non-academic staff.
The undergrads were paid their Mahapola Scholarship to go on these meaningless protests.
Tax-paying citizens, don’t also realise they have been paying for all the facilities added to salaries, allowances and overtime (The biggest farce on earth) of medical doctors while they were on strike demanding closure of SAITM that has nothing to do with healthcare in this country.
It is a bloated lie to say allowing SAITM medical graduates would deteriorate the quality of medical doctors. It is already very much so, with most medical faculties in State universities providing medical degrees with wholly inadequate academic staff and poor facilities.
Their quality is rarely tested with patient backwardness that does not challenge them. Often reported cases of medical neglect and faulty diagnosis resulting in fatalities though not challenged, prove medical doctors from State medical faculties are not always the best, nor even good.
Even where complaints are made to the SLMC against medical doctors, it is a case of medical doctors investigating and sitting on judgment over their colleagues.
Student protests, with GMOA leadership against SAITM, have nothing to do with improving the quality of medical education and its profession.
The medical profession is no more a respectable, noble profession, chasing after big money without ethics and morals.
It has in turn lost its due social respect. SAITM is also not about saving “free education”.
Closing of SAITM will not stop the already “commodified” education to be anything different.
This clearly is a political campaign the tax payers are indirectly funding and will not stand to gain anything from, except growing anarchy.
This will therefore continue until the Government realises it cannot afford this anarchy anymore and the people realise they should not allow their tax money to go waste on these anarchist protests.