n Wednesday, the Daily Mirror in an Editorial headlined, “Who blocked the Bibile policy; expose them”, asked the former Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, the Opposition Common candidate for the presidency, to name and shame those who had done this. Mr. Sirisena, emerging as the main star in the ongoing historic political drama, obliged the next day.
Speaking at a meeting with medical personnel Mr. Sirisena made one of the most shocking disclosures of corruption in recent times. He said he had information that a ‘certain person,’ whom he did not name, had received a staggering Rs. 1000 million from pharmaceutical companies to block the legislation for the implementation of Professor Senaka Bibile’s National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP). Mr. Sirisena said this was a devastating crime against earth and heaven because it affected not only millions of poor and innocent patients but also generations to come. If the NMDP—approved by the Cabinet as far back as October 2005 but delayed year after year—had been implemented, it would have made quality medicinal drugs available to the people at affordable prices as a first step towards restoring a health service where the wellbeing of the patients is given top priority.
Mr. Sirisena who will launch his “Maithri Palanaya vision” at a massive rally in his homebase of Polonnaruwa today, did not name the ‘certain person’ but he again referred to how the legislation disappeared after it was given to the former Chief Legal Draftswomen. He said that earlier this year, after the first draft disappeared, he appointed another top level committee to formulate a new draft. This new draft was presented to the cabinet but it was languishing before a cabinet subcommittee for several months.
While we are thankful to Mr. Sirisena for exposing this horrendous if not murderous corruption, we insist that he needs to name this ‘certain person’ who should be brought to trial and punished. Health action groups also point out it is a crime to accept a bribe and also to give a bribe. Therefore stern action needs to be taken against the pharmaceutical companies which gave this staggering bribe because it caused suffering to millions of patients and perhaps even some deaths.
After the dramatic crossover of November 21 when the tide began to turn against the Rajapaksa government several other acts of blatant corruption are also being exposed. Leaders of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, allies of the Rajapaksa coalition till last week, also held a news conference on Thursday to expose a multitude of corrupt deeds and the magnitude of the manner in which public money was being plundered. JHU General Secretary and former Minister Champika Ranawaka charged that the government was pocketing as much as Rs. 48 from every litre of petrol imported to Sri Lanka. That means one litre of petrol cost the government Rs. 109 but it is sold at Rs 157. Sri Lanka needs about 16 million litres per day. If someone is pocketing 48 from every litre it means a profit of Rs 768 million a day.
After Mr. Ranawaka spoke on Thursday afternoon, world fuel prices plunged to less than US$ 65 a barrel - a decline of more than US$40 a barrel during the past few months. This biggest plunge came after the Vienna meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) who on Thursday night decided there would be no cuts in production to stabilise prices. Several OPEC members are reported to have wanted a cut in production to raise prices but the OPEC’s political kingmaker Saudi Arabia had its way of maintaining production levels for political and economic reasons.
JHU leaders also charged that the government was essentially being run by members or supporters of one family while this ruling dynasty was in turn being funded by heroin, ethanol and casino racketeers. Now Mr. Sirisena is exposing one of the biggest ever rackets in the Health Service which means life or death for millions of people. Thus we join health and civic action groups in demanding that names be named and racketeers punished while in the long term, as we stress on Wednesday the Right to Information Act(RIT) must be implemented to curb such corruption.