Sticking his neck in sticky health issues
Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne denied President Maithripala Sirisena having had an official discussion with officials of the GMOA with regard to the SAITM issue. Dr. Senaratne in an interview with our sister paper Lankadeepa goes on to state that the discussion held was of a secret nature and such a discussion has only aggravated the complex nature of the SAITM issue. The following are excerpts of the interview.
There had been a meeting between the GMOA and President Maithripala Sirisena with regard to the SAITM issue. Doctors have confirmed having had this meeting. A separate letter has been sent by The President’s Secretary after the meeting regarding this issue. You say there has been no such official meeting with them. Who is saying the truth?
The President says there was an unofficial meeting with them (GMOA). He (President) immediately stated that this meeting had been a secret one. The president has given GMOA officials an opportunity to meet him following a request by them. President never gave them an appointment. They (GMOA) said if an appointment was given for a discussion they would stop the strike. Following their request they were asked to come. There are no records of this meeting. No photos. If there was an official discussion, ask them to show photos. They also accepted that this was a secret meeting. There is no any indication in the letter sent by the President Office that such a discussion was held. The GMOA had tried to have a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, but he (Premier) hadn’t allocated them a time. That is why a telephone call has been taken to Dr. Malik Samarawickrama instead of Minister Malik Samarawickrama.
Given the complex nature of the problem it is strange that a secret meeting was held. Don’t you think such a meeting will only aggravate the issue?
We have to offer some help when doctors request a favour for their meeting held in the afternoon. They have to tell something to their members. There are many JVP and Peratugami Party members representing this union. We had to do something because we didn’t want the doctors to lose power in this union.
But GMOA says that you were involved when the discussion was in progress with the President and the GMOA. Is it true that you aired your personal views at this forum?
Why should I intervene in this matter? I wasn’t there. Who is interested in my personal views? All ideas have been presented by the government. They say that this government is functioning according to the wishes of some individuals. The government has showcased its stability. This was announced by the President in Polonnaruwa. Now they are trying to put the blame on me because they couldn’t succeed with the President.
GMOA accepted that the meeting was held in secret
We didn’t want the doctors to lose power in this union
They are trying to put the blame on me because they couldn’t succeed with the president
GMOA does transfers and appointments according to their wishes
Majority of the members have understood that this is all political work
No problem regarding private medical colleges
We accept the issue regarding quality
In this situation the Government and the GMOA should both take a step back to bring about a solution. But what is happening is that both parties are doing tit for tat
Why should we take a step back? Did we create SAITM? It’s they who got together and built this institute. Now Padeniya is having discussions with Gotabaya Rajapaksha. According to MP Paranawithana, it is Padeniya who took Champika Ranawaka to meet Gotabaya when he (Champika) left the previous government. Now we have to decide whether we will do away with the SAITM or not.
The GMOA says that due to the lack of flexibility regarding this SAITM issue, some day students might become more aggressive and take up weapons?
There is a separate investigation being done by the CID. There is a newly passed act which spells how to deal with people circulating rumors that can cause turmoil in the country. Such culprits will have to undergo a 10-year imprisonment. This is also not a bailable offence.
"The Ministry of Health can’t stop the increase of Dengue. The Ministry of Health can cure Dengue patients"
Then what is the clear stance and decision taken by the government in this regard?
The stance taken by the Cabinet of ministers is clear and has been conveyed.
Champika and Dayasiri are against SAITM despite the Cabinet of Ministers having decided about the future of this institute. Does this indicate that the government is split on this issue?
They didn’t say anything regarding SAITM at the Cabinet meeting. Something has to be said in this regard for comments to be made public. It is Minister Champika who said not to hold any more meetings with the GMOA.
You are also a doctor. You are fighting against the doctors. Will these clashes effect your profession?
Only the doctors are clashing with me. Others are supporting me. Did you see that numbers representing unions that gathered around the ministry premises?
You have said that only three or four members have offered opposition and that the others are with you. Then why can’t you settle this problem?
True. There are many members. They were present even on 8th of January, 2015. They are threatened by the GMOA which now operates like a mafia. It’s they (GMOA) which does the transfers and appointments according to their wishes. I will put a complete stop to it.
Can four or five people initiate a in the hospital?
The union meetings are attended only a few people. As much as 98% will not participate. As a result ultimate decisions are taken by only a few people. We have a tradition of agreeing with these decisions. Now the majority of the members have understood that this is all political work. Now they (the majority) are organizing unions in every province with the view of airing a different voice. I am the person who stopped that. Now I understand that the majority will go separately given the prevailing situation.
"An issue regarding quality has never arisen during my tenure in office. Now it is OK. I should be thanked"
Your detractors claim that you are in favour SAITM because of your daughter in law?
Not only my daughter in law. There are other relations in this institute too. Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s son is also in the SLIT. The sister of Lahiru from Antaray also there. Given this background what can we do?
Now you have no problem. But you had a problem when the first private medical college commenced. Is this correct?
My cousin brother was enrolled there during that time. I protested against that. I highlighted only two facts. One is not to recruit unqualified persons. The second is not to have the degree on par with Colombo. We had no problem regarding private medical colleges. We are trying to correct them.
Their problem is about the quality of the degree. The absence of justice with regard to this has given rise to a problem.
We accept the issue regarding quality. They broke into the ministry on the day we wanted to offer the quality certificate. The Medical Council was to give me the quality certificate on that day. An issue regarding quality has never arisen during my tenure in office. Now it is OK. I should be thanked.
Now people say SAITM should be acquired. But the government has acquired the Nevil Fernando Hospital. What is the use of acquiring a white elephant?
They say various things. Earlier they said they are fighting to ensure quality. Now they say we must abolish SAITM. They knew that we will ensure quality. Investors won’t come to the country if things are happening in this manner. Premadasa did a foolish thing. GMOA and Dentist Unions didn’t make a request to nationalize Medical College. It was the JVP that made this request. Premadasa had a personal grudge with the private doctor of J.R.Jayewardene. This was because the doctor didn’t acknowledge Premadasa’s presence. As a result, Premadasa acquired the Medical College. At present the second such institute is going to be nationalized. Will investors come to the country now? Then what will happen is that students will go abroad. As a result our money will also go abroad. Is that correct now? No one is talking ill about this aspect of the problem.
Now Nevil Fernando has also opposed your decision. He says that the hospital cannot be acquired?
Will this man agree to our proposals? But we are a government. When we take decisions we can’t please everybody.
"Only the doctors are clashing with me. Others are supporting me. "
During the recent commotion that took place, university students were assaulted and government property was severely damaged. You could have stopped their arrival?
I was worried about properties and government servants. It was only after I informed about the incident that the top brass police officials came to know about this. If a protest is staged by the university students, the first thing the police should do is to go either to the Ministry of Higher Education, my Ministry, President’s Office or Prime Minister’s Office. What the police did was arrive and passively watch. That is all. Police didn’t do anything till the Colombo DIG came. The police hadn’t taken any steps to prevent the students from breaking the iron gates. Protecting property is the duty of the police. This could have been stopped on the orders of the STF Commandant. I did this after consulting Sagala. I thank the entire staff of the ministry as they didn’t abandon the ministry at any given time. Some thugs who were present assaulted people, not even sparing fathers.
Those present were university students. They came there with the view of finding solutions to SAITM. But your people developed the situation into a fight.
Medical students didn’t do this work. Only two or three students would have been involved. How many monks were at the scene? Are they from from Medical College? Students in other faculties were shouting. We understand their intentions as well.
If we talk about politics, why can’t they go back on the promise which was given by the constitution?
All along constitutions were formed without the mandate of the people. This is the first time we are going to do this. Committees appointed to form constitutions went to various places and took the opinion of the people. It will take more time to change this constitution. We are not taking these decisions forcibly. Even Sampanthan has said no devolution of power can be made without the approval of the Sinhala People.
"The police hadn’t taken any steps to prevent the students from breaking the iron gates. Protecting property is the duty of the police"
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party opposed some of the proposals in the constitutional committee. Do you think this will have a negative impact when the constitution needs approving?
Various ideas surface because there are lots of people. Clashes also arise. That is the nature. Most of them say it is like a pot of conjee (herbal porridge). But we will reach our targets.
The Executive premiership was proposed suddenly. Why is that?
No. Various ideas were proposed. Some wanted to abolish the executive. Some said to reduce power. There were many proposals. All should come under the Prime Minister. This is the main target.
It is reported that the dengue menace developed during your tenure in office. Isn’t the responsibility yours?.
The Malaria menace was completely suppressed during my tenure in office, hence credit should come to me. It is very difficult to control these things within one or two years. Such diseases increase not only in Sri Lanka, but in other countries as well. The reason behind this disease is unnatural weather. This is not Malaria. Suppression of Malaria belongs to the Ministry of Health. But these mosquitoes are living in houses. Malaria has increased in difficult areas. Dengue has increased in urban areas. That is the difference between these two menaces. The Ministry of Health can’t stop the increase of Dengue. The Ministry of Health can cure Dengue patients. Last year we lost 1% and this year it came down to 0.3%.
"All along constitutions were formed without the mandate of the people. This is the first time we are going to do this. "
You will be angered when we raise this question. Your activities are similar to the previous Government. You shout more as a person. You are the person who sticks your neck in all government problems?
I don’t know about that. Yes I have stuck my neck in problems faced by every government. I am talking on behalf of leaders. I am talking on behalf of governments too. I do things keeping in mind my own theme. I’m not airing views outside of the Cabinet. I present my theme to the Cabinet. Some people don’t like this. I always protect the government. We must always see who istalking against the government and who is coming to power next if the government fails.That won’t be the JVP. We know Rajapakshas are coming to power. Why should we appoint the Rajapakshas again?
Is it because of your straightforwardness that you have not allowed the secretary appointed by the president to assume the duties?
That issue wasn’t regarding that Secretary. That secretary is scheduled to retire in February next year. As a result he gets his leave from November. It is very difficult to run the Ministry of Health like this. That is why I said to appoint a secretary who has at least one more year to serve in the Ministry.