Sri Lanka President shows no mercy to striking doctors: minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Striking government doctors called off their trade union action despite failing to extract any concessions from President Maithripala Sirisena, but may have feared mounting public anger, the health minister said Wednesday.

The cabinet of ministers discussed the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) trade union action last week and the President noted that he had made no concessions whatsoever to the strikers, minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters at a televised press conference.

“The President made it very clear even before he sat down to the meeting (on Saturday) that it was an unofficial, informal meeting, purely at the request of the doctors,” the minister said. “The doctors had come for the meeting after ending their strike.”

The cabinet was told Tuesday that the president would not show “any mercy” to the striking doctors who risked the lives of patients seeking free medical treatment at state hospitals.

It has also been suggested to the government to bring new conditions on the duty free vehicle permits made available to state sector doctors. Those engaging in private practice are likely to be denied duty free permits, an official source said.

The GMOA said a statement issued by the Presidential secretariat went against what the President had promised them, but the President’s office insisted that the statement was not a result of the meeting with the  doctors’ union.

The President’s secretary P. B. Wijekoon went as far as to issue a correction on Tuesday denying a Sinhalese newspaper report which had said the government was going to re-draft a statement in favour of the GMOA demands and issue it instead of the presidential statement on Sunday.

Minister Senaratne said the GMOA was desperate the end their strike because there was pressure building from within the rank and file against a prolonged work stoppage which also hurt their lucrative private practice.

GMOA members from the Western, North-Western, North-Central and the Northern provinces were unhappy with the current GMOA leadership and were in talks with the minister to form a breakaway trade union.

A consumer rights group said it believed that the doctors’ decision to call of the strike on Saturday came a day before they were due to ivoke the wrath of gods on strikers who jeopardised the lives of patients in state hospitals.

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“What ever the GMOA leadership says, they were worried that there were going to be demonstrations outside their homes to invoke curses on them,” a consumer rights activist said.

Consumer rights group, the National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection (NMCRP), was about to visit schools and meet teachers of striking doctors seeking the ostracise them.

NMCPR leader Ranjith Vithanage said the ostracizing campaign had huge public support and they were about to launch it when the GMOA decided to call off their strike.

A split in the GMOA turned violent last week when one doctor smashed a cup on the face of another breaking his nose. Ironically, the injured doctor had to be rushed to the National Hospital Colombo where his own colleagues were on strike.

GMOA spokesman Samantha Ananda said on Saturday that the President had agreed to take “positive steps” to resolve issues surrounding the private South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM).

“The president agreed to take steps to improve standards of medical education and the quality of the medical service,” Ananda told reporters in Colombo.

However, an official at the Presidential Secretariat said his remarks were a misrepresentation of what transpired at the informal talks granted at the pleading of some GMOA members.

The SAITM was established in 2008 under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, but the GMOA began pressing action to scrap the SAITM only recently under the new government of President Sirisena.

The GMOA argues that the education at SAITM is substandard and that many of its students do not have minimum qualifications for higher studies, a position challenged by the private college.

(COLOMBO, June 28, 2017)

 

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