“GMOA Secretary Haritha Aluthge told a news conference that their counsel were currently studying the facts included in the judgment and that the GMOA’s emergency Central Committee which was scheduled to meet next week would decide on this matter.” (DM Online)
This same news report concluded saying, the GMOA “would further discuss these matters with President Sirisena.” For the GMOA, “these matters” would mean heavy damage caused to its inflamed ego and how it could now save face in public with the Supreme Court (SC) upholding the ruling given by the Court of Appeal(CoA) on the much-shuffled and messed-up SAITM medical students’ issue.
To cut short a two-year plus long story, the GMOA played an insane role in denying SAITM medical students their right and legitimate opportunity of becoming medical doctors. GMOA leaders with utterly-irrational and illogical selfish demands opposed the local private medical faculty paid for in SL Rupees, while accepting foreign medical colleges paid for in US dollars. Often, there is no acceptable guarantee on the quality of medical education in these foreign medical colleges the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) can vouch for. Ruining his well-earned social reputation, Prof. Carlo Fonseka played one of the most disgusting roles in SLMC history as its president, accused of changing conclusions and recommendations of its own committee appointed to investigate and report on the status and quality of medical education in SAITM. As documents marked during the CoA hearing showed, he had it changed to say SAITM medical students cannot be registered by SLMC as medical practitioners, to fall in line with the GMOA and the medical faculty deans who also oppose SAITM.
In justifying the SLMC denying registration for SAITM medical graduates, GMOA leaders, the State university medical faculty deans and others screamed registration of “half baked” medical doctors from SAITM would have a very bad impact on people’s health. The GMOA leaders should therefore explain how 120 complaints against medical doctors, all graduates from State university medical faculties and probably members of GMOA too, came to be lodged with the SLMC in 2012. These cases were dragged on for almost six years. Of them, in three cases the accused medical doctors were found guilty, while others are pending. Talking of quality medical education, during the tenure of Prof. Carlo Fonseka as SLMC President, there were no records available of any assessments done on any State university medical faculty. From what is openly known, the Rajarata Medical Faculty should be closed down for lack of competent and qualified academic staff. Perhaps, there are too many other deficiencies there, if properly assessed. The same hold true with many other State university medical faculties, though GMOA leaders avoid answering questions on quality of medical education in our State university medical faculties. With a huge hoax woven around SAITM, the SLMC denial of provisional registration to SAITM medical degree holders was celebrated as final victory by GMOA-led campaigners.
This SLMC decision was challenged over two years ago in the CoA by a SAITM medical graduate on June 14, 2016, requesting the CoA to direct the SLMC to register her provisionally as a medical practitioner on her application made to the SLMC on June 6, 2016. Seven months later, the CoA ruled on January 31, 2017, the ‘petitioner’ is duly qualified for provisional registration and the SLMC should therefore register the ‘petitioner’ provisionally. GMOA opposed the CoA decision and Prof. Fonseka as SLMC President followed suit, appealing against the CoA ruling. There was a single member in the SLMC who had sanity of mind to tell his member colleagues the CoA ruling was balanced, firm and well-formulated after serious study, and therefore to appeal against the CoA ruling would only demean the SLMC, with every possibility the SC would uphold the CoA ruling to the letter. Yet, with Manohara de Silva PC, known as a legal advisor to Mahinda Rajapaksa retained by Prof. Carlo Fonseka for the SLMC, the CoA ruling was opposed and the SC was petitioned on March 13, 2017, requesting the SC to quash the ruling made by the CoA.
Yet, in a landmark ruling by the SC given on September 21 last which upheld the CoA ruling after 18 months with Rs.100,000 as compensation for the petitioner, would now allow any private medical college to be established, with due approvals obtained with required standards guaranteed. There is no semblance of a chance now for the GMOA and others who tagged after the GMOA leadership to have the SC decision altered. This basically brings the GMOA leadership to its knees. What the GMOA’s emergency Central Committee scheduled to meet next week could decide on this matter, is far from any commonsense imagination. For GMOA Secretary Haritha Aluthge to tell the media they would meet with the President to “further discuss these matters” only goes to say they are now ‘clean bowled’ and are trying to save face publicly. The GMOA now has no serious backing even among the medical profession. Its loud and angry statements made at a hurried media briefing against any proposed changes to the SLMC, threatening it would resort to the most drastic trade union action ever taken in history, has only been left to joke about. It declared strike actions all through the SAITM protests, were always failures, though Ministers Kiriella and Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa and State Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva had knee jerks to take firm decisions on the SAITM issue.
"GMOA leaders should explain how 120 complaints against medical doctors, all graduates from State universities, came to be lodged with the SLMC in 2012"
The SC ruling now creates a precedent not only in allowing a legal right to establish private medical colleges, but also in SLMC having to pay all other SAITM medical students due compensation for damage done to their future life as professionals. A minimum of two years of their professional life had been robbed by the SLMC decision in refusing to accept them for provisional registration, when in law, the SLMC had no legal right to deny, as the CoA ruling endorsed by the SC clearly says.
The SC ruling also holds this government responsible for not making decisions and delaying a final decision. In its ruling the SC says, “While this appeal was pending, the government has taken several steps with regard to SAITM and the students of SAITM. Eventually, on June 28, Parliament enacted the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (Special Provisions) Act No. 17 of 2018 which inter alia provided for the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University to award, on such terms as may be determined by its Board of Management, an MBBS degree of that university to students who have completed the study programme leading to the award of an MBBS degree at SAITM. However, these steps were taken by the government and the enactment of the aforesaid statute all occurred, long after the petitioner filed her application in the Court of Appeal and also long after the SLMC filed an application in this court seeking this special leave to appeal from the order of the Court of Appeal.”
What it says very diplomatically and in legal lingo is that the government should have taken adequate steps before the SAITM medical graduate petitioner sought legal redress, or at least before the SLMC filed an application with the SC. Whatever decided and steps taken after the SAITM medical graduate sought legal redress by way of a petition to the CoA will not be held as valid in providing the petitioner due justice. Although the GMOA is confused as always, the SC has cleared the path for this government to stand firm in finally resolving the SAITM issue. After well over two years of hesitancy, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (Special Provisions) Act No. 17 of 2018 stands alone and aside, and is in no way a contradiction, as the SC ruling had taken it into consideration. It now allows the government to follow the SC ruling and have the SLMC implement as ruled by the SC. The Health Minister is therefore directly responsible in having the SLMC provisionally register all medical graduates from SAITM. As such the SC ruling does not provide any necessity for the President or any minister in this government to discuss the SAITM issue anymore with the GMOA or with any other party.
The only issue as I see now is how all batches of medical undergraduates of SAITM could proceed with their medical education. The first batch is now accepted legally as qualified for provisional registration. Therefore, other batches of undergraduates after them who have paid for their medical education to SAITM should also have that same opportunity without any restrictions. Denying rest of the SAITM medical students the right and opportunity given to the first batch would now amount to open discrimination. In plain language, this leads to a resurrection of the SAITM medical faculty. How the government would address that is left to be seen with the present GMOA leadership reduced to press statements and nothing more. In this new situation, it would be wise for medical doctors to have the GMOA wiped clean of irresponsible and unprofessional conduct and elect a more intelligent and a rational leadership. The SC ruling in that sense is a ‘godsend’ to government medical doctors too.