Even President Sirisena has not seen the ETCA draft – Dr. Padeniya
Posted on February 26th, 2016

Courtesy The Island


The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has spearheaded opposition to the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India. This opposition was based on the information that the government had communicated to the GMOA about the proposed agreement. Politicians at all levels parliamentarians, political party leaders, and even the cabinet appear to have been kept completely in the dark about this agreement a draft of which had been secretly sent around to selected trade associations on condition of maintaining secrecy. It was the GMOA that blew the whistle on the whole process by publishing on their website the draft of the proposed ETCA with India. In this interview, C. A. Chandraprema speaks to Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, President of the GMOA about the proposed agreement and the preparations being made to commence an Indian ambulance and pre-hospitalisation care service in Sri Lanka.

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Q. The press reported the Prime Minister as having said during his tour of Hambantota that the GMOA had published a false copy of ETCA on their website. The government was keeping the draft of the ETCA with India a closely guarded secret and it is from the GMOA website that we all obtained a copy of the draft. So it is important to establish the authenticity of that document. Was it Minister Malik Samarawickrema who gave you that copy of the ETCA draft?

A. We have to be thankful to Minister Malik Samarawickrema. Before he came into the picture, all our meetings were with officials of the Trade Ministry and none of them gave us a proper set of documents. We got documents in a very unacceptable manner without signatures. Some of the documents that we got through the OPA were ones that Sri Lankan delegates at conferences had obtained from their Indian counterparts. For the first time we got a proper set of documents (which have not been finalised yet) from Mr Malik Samarawickrema. He also gave us a copy of a speech made by the Prime Minister on this matter and we uploaded both on our website and circulated them to our members. The draft of the ETCA with India was emailed to us by Mr Samarawickrema’s ministry. This is not a final document because they have invited the GMOA and other professional groups for another round of discussions. This document was emailed to us to initiate a dialogue.

Q. In your meetings with Minister Samarawickrema, did he at any point inform you that an Indian ambulance and pre-hospitalisation service would be introduced to Sri Lanka as an affiliate of our Health Ministry even before ETCA is signed?

A. No. When I issued a press release from the GMOA about this ambulance service, the Minister phoned me and asked me what this is about. He was not aware of this ambulance issue. The cabinet paper giving the go ahead for this ambulance service should have come through the Health Ministry, but it came from the Prime Minister’s ministry and it is being defended by Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva.

Q. Minister Samarawickrema did say at a press conference that the IT and naval engineering fields would be opened up to the Indians. But even those two areas have not been specifically mentioned in this ETCA draft agreement which is now available in the public domain.

A. We too are at a loss as to what document is correct. None of the documents we get are signed. When we go for meetings we get CDs which are not marked as being from the Trade Ministry. The transparency of this whole process is a big issue. Nobody seems to be responsible and accountable. Minister Samarawickrema said that the IT and naval engineering services will be opened up. He believes that these two industries are facing a human resources gap and that this gap has to be filled by Indians for the betterment of the country. The advocacy groups that seem to be advising him seem to have convinced him that this human resource gap can be filled only by signing the ETCA with India. They don’t seem to be taking into account the impact of such an agreement. During the tenure of the past few governments a group of professionals calling themselves economists have been advocating this Indo-Lanka economic partnership. Our position is that this country should have a national policy in entering into trade agreements. India has such a national policy as do all developed countries.

Q. If you start talking in terms of human resources gaps that have to be filled, there is a shortage of labour not only in the IT and naval engineering industries but also in the garment industry and in paddy cultivation and many other fields.

A. There is a human resource gap in the political field also!

Q. Indeed! So where is this going to stop? The IT and naval engineering fields have not been specifically mentioned in the current ETCA draft. The question is will the IT and naval engineering fields also be opened up to India through Cabinet papers like the ambulance service?

A. Simply opening the country up without analysing the possible consequences is not a scientific approach to the issue.

Q. You have written to President Maithripala Sirisena about this matter. But on what grounds do you believe that the President will be able to offer any redress? Even though the President belongs to a different political party, we have seen that he toes the Prime Minister’s line on policy matters. The budget was a completely UNP affair and he followed the UNP policy on the matter. The same thing happened with regard to the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka. In a situation where the PM is aggressively advocating this Indo-Lanka economic agreement, can you expect the President to go against him?

A. President Maithripala Sirisena was the Health Minister in the past and we had a very cordial relationship with him. He will be in a good position to understand our position on the proposed Indian ambulance service. We have analysed it from all angles including the security aspect and highlighted the fact that this cabinet paper was not put forward after discussing matters with the relevant stakeholders. Besides, he is the head of state and the executive president. None of his powers have been taken over by anybody. The GMOA is not working on its own in this matter. The engineers, IT experts, accountants, architects and about three dozen other professional bodies are involved in this process. What all of us are saying is that the process that the government has adopted in this matter is wrong.

Q. When you met Minister Samarawickrema did you ask him why this proposed ETCA with India is kept under wraps in this manner?

A. To be fair by Minister Samarawickrema he is the only politician who at least gave us the draft. We must not blame only the politicians. We have to expose the advocacy groups behind this whole matter. They are running the whole show. At a recent meeting, we were told by one of these advocacy professionals that the document will be shown to one of us just so that we know that there is a document of this nature! When we met the President, he too said that he has not seen this document. This secret document is not shown even to the head of state!

Q. There was an advertisement in the newspapers calling for applications for job vacancies for that Indian ambulance service some days ago. According to that cabinet paper, this Indian organisation has to be given land and buildings by the government to start their operations. Have you heard anything about the allocation of government land and buildings to this Indian organisation?

A. Other than this cabinet paper and the newspaper advertisement, we know nothing.

Q. There are ambulance services in government hospitals. How are they reacting to an Indian organisation coming in as an affiliated body of the Health Ministry to do the same job?

A. We had a meeting with them, and they were asking us for information. This pre-hospitalisation care and ambulance service will be outside the existing government and private health care systems. In an emergency, the delivery of the patient to either of these two systems will be in the hands of this third element and therefore what is envisaged is a structural change to the health system. A feasibility study should be done about the need for such a thing. Today, almost all baby deliveries are being done in hospitals. Then within a certain kilometre range there is a hospital. The hospital network was designed decades ago after an analysis of the accessibility of these hospitals to the public. So the hospitals are situated according to a scientific framework. That is why there was no demand for a pre-hospitalisation ambulance service in this country earlier. Therefore a feasibility study has to be done to see where such a requirement arises. The Indian ambulance service is being sold to the public by saying that patients can be attended to very quickly and lives saved. The response time is supposed to be 30 minutes. Given the traffic situation in urban areas in this country, what is the guarantee that the ambulance will reach the patient in 30 minutes? By giving the patient such an assurance, he will end up waiting for the ambulance without trying to get the patient to the hospital in any available transport. Besides, where will this ambulance service take the patient, to the government hospital or private hospital? Who will make that decision?

Q. The Indian Express had spoken to Indian officials who had said that for the first year this service was going to be provided entirely free because the Indian government was going to meet the cost. What happens after the first year? Will the Sri Lankan government end up financing an Indian organisation to carry out a service that was being handled by Sri Lankans earlier?

A. Our national hospital which is one of the largest in the world and it operates with very few ambulances. Some private hospitals now pick up patients when they are informed. So this service is developing in an ad hoc manner. The question is if we want to strengthen this service in a sustainable way beyond just one year, can we go about it in this manner? We have a good track record in handling emergency situations especially during the war when we had to deal with many dozens of emergency cases all at once when bombs went off in Colombo. We also handled the situation that arose after the 2004 tsunami. The question is with such a track record, why is the introduction of an ambulance network being handed over to India?

One Response to “Even President Sirisena has not seen the ETCA draft – Dr. Padeniya”

  1. Kumari Says:

    Thank you Mr Chandraprema and Dr Padeniya. This seems to be another SATAN VIRAMA GIVISUMA, that was kept hidden from the then president and the public. One thing is guaranteed. If Ranil is involved it will be a disaster to the country.

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