WHEN JUDICIAL LEGITIMACY IS CHALLENGED
Posted on February 10th, 2017

WINSTON DE VALLIERE Courtesy Ceylon Today

Besides the opposition from the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), we’ve been seeing the persistent resistance to the South Asia Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that voices strong reservations about the standard of medical education imparted at SAITM.

The GMOA and JVP found nothing wrong in the standards of medical education imparted at SAITM during the Rajapaksa years in power, during which the then President himself approved SAITM’s credentials as a medical institute worthy of State and public patronage on 27 March 2013 by offering Rs 7 million individual scholarships to 10 students to follow SAITM’s medical degree programme.

Logic would then have it that the GMOA and JVP, as well as the student federations and unions involved in this farcical opposition to recognition of SAITM’s medical degree holders as being entitled to registration as legal medical practitioners in the country, by the Sri Lanka Medical Council, are a concerted politically orchestrated effort to add to the groundswell of opposition that’s being drummed up by disgruntled political opposition forces.

That the former President has also now chipped in with reservations, about four years after he granted those scholarships, against which neither the GMOA or JVP raised a protest. SAITM was approved under Rajapaksa’s Presidency, under approval of the then University Grants Commission (UGC) with special concession from the BOI since it was established as a local-foreign collaborative project. Not counting the comparatively low scoring Russian partner in this project which could be a minus point, the overriding factor for legitimacy here is whether SAITM does – or does not – impart a standard of medical education that makes its degree holders worthy of official registration as duly qualified medical practitioners in the country.

Why were all these protesters silent during the Rajapaksa years and in the first instance why did they not protest against the very registration of SAITM as a medical education institute? Despite the scholarships given by Rajapaksa it is perhaps those very students who have passed out four years later who are barred from their legitimate right to be registered as qualified medical practitioners in this country.

Apparently the UGC and the then Cabinet were satisfied that SAITM offered adequately acceptable professional credentials to entitle it to be registered as a worthy institution of medical education. While on that subject, it sounds queer that no protests have been raised about degree and other courses offered at SAITM.

However, in spite of the former President’s recent remarks, he followed a contradictory course of action regarding the private medical college, during his tenure as President.

The law cannot interfere

On Saturday, 4 February 2017, a couple of days before the attack on the life of the SAITM CEO, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke out against SAITM. He said: “There needs to be a standard. The law cannot interfere. If it happens, everyone in this country will try to become doctors.”

Why wasn’t that standard set up, when the project was established, under his regime? It’s nothing, but fair that a clear explanation be made on this issue instead of a dubious and hazy offhand one that means nothing much by way of an explanation.

That’s a serious statement from a former Head of State. If an individual or organization cannot seek recourse to the law to determine action against what he/it perceives to be a violation of his/its rights and legitimacy in occupation, as SAITM’s degree holders have done, where then can such a person/institution go to for redress? Does this mean that Mr. Rajapaksa would have used his executive powers to quash such a Court ruling during his presidency and plunge into disrepute the very organization he sanctioned with personal scholarship awards? Today’s President was the Health Minister in the Cabinet that then approved the SAITM project. The then President, was Minister of Finance under whom the BOI functioned and, approved this project.

Apparently, no one seems to have then known what he was doing at that time? Or is there some deeper, sinister political significance in all of this opposition that has now ended with a move to negate a Superior Court determination?.

The JVP seems to be worried that institutions such as SAITM will also have a negative impact on free education. How stupid can that be? In a democracy don’t parents have the right to decide on either free or private education for their children? Or is the JVP trying to tell us that under its brand of politics, that party will deprive parents of the right to choose private education for their children, especially because that education will not be interrupted and jeopardized by its ability to politicize State University student movements as weapons of mass social and political destabilization? It might rankle quite a lot that the movers and shakers holding the reins of the GMOA and student unions cannot break into private educational institutions and exploit those students too as malleable political tools in their bid to grab power.

It’s now come to an open challenge of decisions arrived at by the now democratically restored independent judiciary by political forces of yesterday which made a plaything of the judiciary, legislature, police and armed forces.

What we are in effect being told today is that any decision taken by them when in power and any opinion to the contrary expressed by them today are both right and hence must be acknowledged as the benchmark of what’s right and wrong.

The attack on the SAITM CEO

In effect, it’s their thinking that’s right and that matters! This is the contradiction in their positions when in power and when out of power. And the people are expected to nod like a bunch of idiots in agreement whenever it suits their political objectives to say something today that’s totally at variance with what they said when in power.

The attack on the SAITM CEO came, a couple of days after he said at a media briefing that “the professors, senior lecturers, specialists, and consultants at the South Asian Institute of Technology & Medicine (SAITM), are among the best in the country”.

The facilities and quality of teaching at SAITM cannot be compared to the situation in some of the State medical faculties which even lack professors for some of their departments, he stressed!!

In SAITM and at the Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) we have professors in every department”.

“All of our professors and lecturers have served and taught in government medical faculties and hospitals in Sri Lanka. Some are retired, others teach at SAITM even during their sabbatical leave, and although they have the choice of visiting foreign universities, they opt to engage in a service to the country by teaching medical students at SAITM. We have some of the most renowned professors in Sri Lanka, such as Professor Deepal Weerasekera (Obstetrics and Gynaecology), Prof. Deepthi Samarage (Paediatrics), Prof. Kolitha Sellahewa (Medicine), Prof. Anura Weerasinghe (Physiology), Prof D.B. Nugegoda, (Community Medicine) and Snr. Professor Sriyani Ekanayake (Parasitology),” explained CEO, SAITM, Dr. Sameera Senaratne.

He pointed out that allegations against SAITM were nothing but malicious propaganda to disrupt SAITM’s steady progress. “…At first, in 2009, our admissions policy was to adhere to the clear criteria laid down by the University Grants Commission in admitting students for the MBBS programme. That meant those students with three S passes at the GCE ‘A’ Levels were eligible for the MBBS programme.

Subsequently, consequent to the steady increase in our intakes, and especially on the advice and recommendations of SAITM professors and faculty, in 2013, SAITM decided to raise the minimum qualifications for entry to entitling students who had obtained two C passes and one S pass at the GCE ‘A’ level examination. Now, let me stress here that although this is the minimum qualification, you will not be able to see too many of such students. Why? Because we have at present at least 12 % who have obtained three ‘A’ passes at the A Level exam and about 35% who obtained two A passes and one B pass. We also have, for instance, students who have been short of 0.001 on the Z score. We also have a student who was placed first in the global London GCE Advanced Levels in Biology”.

A very high standar

“I can proudly state that in comparison with State universities, SAITM boasts of facilities of a very high standard,” stressed Dr.Senaratne.

Tracing the evolution of the MBBS programme, Senaratne clarified the real truth behind the disinformation campaign against SAITM and the NFTH.

Dr. Neville Fernando had discussions with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Higher Education, BOI, and the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and other responsible organizations. In addition, discussions were held with the officials of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA). It was they who said that the private hospital clinical training was inadequate and therefore to link-up with govt. hospitals. We then went slow on building our own private hospital and established links with govt. hospitals.

The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Higher Education supported our endeavours”, Dr. Senaratne said.”With the concurrence of the Governor of the Western Province, the use of Homagama, Talangama and Avissawella hospitals was permitted for our students. When we obtained the necessary permission, there were certain groups that were jealous, and began anti-SAITM protests and threatened to strike if our students went to govt. hospitals for clinical training. Thereafter our Chairman had no option but to set-up a private teaching hospital at his own expense and at that time, the partially constructed SAITM Engineering Faculty, was gradually converted to a teaching hospital. This is the real truth about SAITM.

“We never say no to the SLMC. We need a regulatory body because without proper regulation we will have doctors without standards. There must be quality assurance. However, we oppose the duplicity of some members of the SLMC. For instance they appointed a committee to visit SAITM and ascertain the quality of our instruction. They made certain recommendations regarding some perceived shortcomings. If these recommendations are implemented, SAITM students are suitable for provisional registration was the position of the SLMC committee. It was clearly stated so in the report sent us.

Strangely, by the time the report went into the hands of the highest authorities, they removed those recommendations and listed only the shortcomings. This is very regrettable.

There are many eminent people in the SLMC but their voices are drowned by a small coterie,” Dr. Senaratne concluded. The facts do not seem to justify the strange confluence of the illogical opposition to SAITM’s legitimacy.

4 Responses to “WHEN JUDICIAL LEGITIMACY IS CHALLENGED”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    This author should not criticize the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for having helped to get the loans to build SAITM. That is irrelevant. As far as I know, MR did not also accept the responsibility for getting the credentials for the SAITM graduates.

    On the other hand, MR is wrong when ge says the law cannot interfere. If SAITM is alleging that the SLMC is obstructing or not granting it medical training certification UNFAIRLY, that is indeed a matter for the courts to decide, with the help of a panel of medical experts to advise it.

    The standards setting body in Sri Lanka for medical credentials is the SKMC. Normally, SAITM should work with the SLMC to determine what those standards are, incliding the courses of instruction, the facilities and training required to meet them, and the final certification examination conducted by the SLMC.

    There should be equity in the standards between the government run medical colleges and those setup for SAITM. The standards for SAITM cannot be either more rigorous, or less rigorous, than those for SAITM.

    Under law, the SLMC cannot, and should not, be arbitrary in their decisions regarding the standards it demands from SAITM or refuse to provide the same stsndards setting servicrs it provides to government medical colleges.

    If SAITM determines that the SLMC is discriminating against it in this matter for any reason, it does have the right to redress through the courts. The law can and should intervene. The courts should establish a qualified panel of experts to investigate whether SLMC has written standards that must be met by government colleges and whether those standards were met by SAITM, and if not what the remedial actions should be.

    As I see it, this is a TURF BATTLE between vested interests with economic, political and egotistic agendas. There is no institution better equipped than the National Court System to dispense justice in this matter in the national interest.

    Certainly the Judges are not medical doctors, but they don’t have to be. They can appoint a balanced panel of medical doctors, a medical jury if you will, to advise them on those matters beyond their own field of expertise, and come to an reasonable and equitable solution, just as they do in all other disputes between people in which they are not the experts in the field.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oops! I meant to say that the “standards for SAITM cannot be either more rigorous, or less rigorous, than those for government medical colleges”.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    We need both government medical colleges and private medical colleges to meet the needs if capable students and the citizens who need doctors.

    Many of our doctors are fleeing abroad as soon as they complete their compulsory service, and the nation is running short of medical doctors.

    On the other hand, students who are able to afford it are forced to go abroad to study in foreign medical colleges, creating a drain on the nation’s foreign exchange.

    The best way to address both if these problems while retaining the freedom of action of both doctors and students is to create more medical schools that can maintain good standards to train our willing students.

    If the government cannot expand the facilities fast enough, let private schools do so, in the National Interest, while making certain they meet the necessary standards!

    Done the right way, Sri Lanka can become a popular Center of Medical Expertise to the world, where people can come from all over the world to get better and cheaper medical SERVICES than anywhere else!

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    It is JVP that has taken lead in sabotaging the country by misleading young students. Meanwhile MR too is taking advantage which shall be condemned even more.

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