A post-mortem examination by a judicial medical officer may be necessary to find the truth about a growing controversy between Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena and a widely-respected state legal officer who retired in April 2012.
At stake is much more than the integrity of the two personalities involved, but the well-being or even the lives of millions of people who would have access to quality drugs at affordable prices if and when legislation to implement the National Medicinal Drugs Policy based on Professor Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept is implemented. At stake also is the question whether the Government is allowing powerful Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) to control or manipulate a vital sector of the health service of our country.
At the annual Senaka Bibile commemoration meeting organised by the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation and held at the BMICH last Friday, Minister Sirisena spoke out more strongly and aggressively than he has done before. He said this was the fourth time he was addressing the State’s Senaka Bibile commemoration meeting, and every year he had promised that legislation to implement the policy – which has been hailed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is being successfully implemented in scores of countries – would be implemented soon. The Minister said the people and health action groups were accusing him of delaying the legislation for some mysterious reason. The Minister said one health rights group, the People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients, had even filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court on the basis that by delaying the legislation to implement the Bibile principles, the Minister was denying the people of their fundamental right to get quality drugs at affordable prices. The minister said he had been cited as the first respondent. But he appealed that the retired state officer be made the first respondent in this case.
Minister Sirisena claimed the retired state officer who was given the task of drafting legislation for the implementation of the Senaka Bibile policies, had met President Mahinda Rajapaksa and him in December 2011 and promised that the draft would be ready within a month. The minister charged that when he checked later, he was told that the long delayed draft had disappeared and the officer had retired. How such a lengthy draft could disappear in this era of modern technology is best left to a detective fiction writer. Minister Sirisena removed the sugar coating from the pill when he alleged that the officer concerned was now a legal consultant to a chamber of pharmaceutical TNCs. The insinuations and under-tones were clear to the large audience at the BMICH, and the media gave publicity to the minister’s charge.
"Minister Sirisena removed the sugar coating from the pill when he alleged that the officer concerned was now a legal consultant to a chamber of pharmaceutical TNCs"
Investigations by health action groups have revealed that the state officer who had worked out the draft had sent soft copies to the Health Ministry and a hard copy had been personally handed over to the minister by a highly respected medical administrator who had once worked for the WHO. Investigations on the minister’s charge that the retired state officer was now working as a legal consultant for a chamber of pharmaceutical TNCs revealed that such an offer had been made by a law firm, but the state officer had rejected it.
In the light of all this, health action groups were wondering whether the Health Ministry was involved in a double game and blaming a state officer while pharmaceutical TNCs were being allowed to bleed millions of people and the country dry.