Wanted: Presidential Commission on GMOA

By Kumaran Duraiswamy Thangarajah

With the mindset of GMOA Sri Lanka’s dream of becoming a hub for Education seems remote

  • Engineers and others work within Government Departments

  • Standards in terms of morality, materialism, sincerity, ethics are changing and revolutionary tendencies amongst the medics are on the rise.

  • To what extent the University curricula are geared to the employment needs within enterprises in Sri Lanka.

Public interest issues

These views are aimed at addressing public interest issues affecting the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka. Becoming an hub for education in South Asia -although belatedly- can help Sri Lanka earn billions of dollars in foreign exchange, through enrollment of foreign students in Law, Medicine, Agriculture, Information Technology, Engineering, Accounting, Business Management and Marketing to name a few.

Adding new courses can also contribute towards upgrading the standards within Sri Lankan State Universities.

Private Practice for Government Servants

In certain fields such as Medicine, the professional coverage of service levels have been reported to have deteriorated to a level of having a doctor to patient ratio of 1:5, 000 in certain rural areas- thus highlighting the acute shortage of medical professionals in Sri Lanka.

Cartoon added by TW from internetImage result for GMOA Sri Lanka cartoons

In the urban areas, upon payment of around Rs. 1,500 (Some up to 5,000), patients can consult a ‘consultant’ specialist for up to 5 minutes via a lucrative system (For the Doctors) locally known as “channelled private consultations.”

Lawyers in the Public service do not have such system. They are either Public Servants or Private Practitioners.

In such a background, why should the doctors be allowed to abuse this system and act against the public interest?

Why should the lawmakers and voters of Sri Lanka tolerate and accept amongst the public, the selfish views of professionals who have double standards for themselves and other aspiring doctors from within and outside the country?

Is it that they are worried that their immediate private practice incomes would decline?

Fear that their income will dwindle with competition from doctors, who emerge from mentored, private Universities, whose standards can eventually become better and more acceptable to the citizens of Sri Lanka?

In the case of engineers and other professionals, they work within Government Departments or, within private companies on a consultancy basis. Public Servants, other than doctors, do not have such a parallel system to earn an extra buck, through a channelled system.

The same is true for professionals in the fields of architecture, agriculture, accounting, in addition to the engineers and lawyers mentioned earlier.

Private Colleges and Universities in Sri Lanka

Private Universities and colleges have been established in almost every field other than Medicine in Sri Lanka (Except SAITM).

Information Technology based institutions such as Sri Lanka Institute for Information Technology (SLIIT) have been responsible for the training of various Business Process Outsourcing staff of (BPO) the off shore businesses operating in Sri Lanka.

These standards are steadily improving with collaborations with reputed Universities and organisations globally.

There appears to be no merit in the arguments posed by the doctors personally against the present Minister of Higher Education and his predecessor.

Minister Lakshman Kiriella is keen to follow due process in the interests of the wellbeing of the patients through increasing the number of trained doctors and inviting overseas students in order to earn valuable foreign exchange from foreign students studying in Sri Lanka.

While doing so, it also contributes to the knowledge pool of the private sector in improving teaching modalities and monitoring mechanisms.

Hence it will be evident that promoting private universities will result in significant socio-economic benefits to the country.

Changing naively arrogant, hypocrisy amongst the doctors in Sri Lanka.

Doctors in the past were noble in mind, spirit and actions. They never or rarely resorted to self-centered trade union activities.

Thus they received the sincere respect of all citizens. Unfortunately, the situation is almost reversed now. The Doctors may not be aware of this trend, since they seem to be living in their own money-making cocoons nurtured by the pharmaceutical companies also known as the Big Pharma.

It is true that the past, medical graduates from Sri Lanka were of a high standard ethically and professionally. It is unfortunately not the same now.

Standards in terms of morality, materialism, sincerity, ethics are changing and revolutionary tendencies amongst the medics are on the rise.

No other Professionals have in the recent past threatened to take strike action in Sri Lanka as many times as the doctors have done in Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, the recent reduction in the prices of drugs and cancer treatment, have contributed towards improvements in the health sector.

It appears that doctors do not have and continue not to have earned the respect of ordinary citizens due to their lack of empathy and the extraordinary sense of greed exhibited especially during the past 15 to 20 years.

It is noteworthy that none of the Public Universities (Medicine included) in Sri Lanka is listed within the top rankings amongst globally recognised Universities. It appears that there is none within the top 2000 globally.

The advent of Private Universities can be a blessing and act as a subtle trigger to infuse the world’s best practices in terms of educational systems, ethics, accreditations and monitoring systems.

Private Medical Colleges

The Kotelawela Defence Academy’s Medical Faculty is at present the only non-university type institution awarding medical degrees in Sri Lanka. Their standards are said to be improving.

Why cannot similar institutions be allowed to function producing high calibre doctors?

Why cannot the others be given an opportunity and “fair go”. Aren’t they entitled to aspire to become doctors in Sri Lanka?

We are also aware of the sordid events that took place when a Private Medical College was founded in Ragama 35 years ago. Most unfortunately, the same fate befell the North Lanka Medical College. These colleges had to close down due to the utterly selfish, senseless, revolting attitudes and short-term actions of the GMOA and their cronies.

Times have changed, but the attitudes of GMOA doctors are yet to change.

It is about time, for a re-think amongst doctors or, for a re-think amongst the people of Sri Lanka towards doctors, provide moral, ethical, and broadminded inclusiveness, advice and guidelines aimed at improving the mind-set of some of the vociferous narrow-minded members of the medical profession in the country. Due to the historical and present ultra conservative and revolutionary anti-democratic ideologies prevalent within the medical fraternity, there seems to be a need for the progressive “Yahaplanaya Government” of President Maitripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe to consider appointing a high powered, Presidential Commission to investigate the efficacy and modalities of existing activities and practices adopted by the Medical Practitioners in Sri Lanka.

In the light of the inefficiencies within the medical industry amongst biased writing of prescriptions, improperly high fees, low-accessibility amongst rural areas, lack of audits and monitoring mechanisms being implemented based on ISO accreditations.

This group can also make recommendations to re-structure the whole Profession as deemed necessary, in terms of ethics, practices, and delivery mechanisms to effectively provide efficient services considering value for money (Private Channelled Services) including all rural households in Sri Lanka.

A regular monitoring index to ascertain satisfaction levels amongst patients from urban and rural households may also be recommended to independently audit the acceptability of their services to the targeted beneficiaries. Since they received their “FREE” education funded by tax payers, the taxpayers do, have a right to exercise their views and opinions on how they conduct themselves by considering the overall interests of fellow citizens of Sri Lanka.

GMOA are they infallible?

History: The Medical Profession in Sri Lanka had very high ethical and moral standards orientated towards community service and public interest. During the past few decades this trend has been on the decline.

Contributing to this was the introduction of the so called channelled private practice.

Doctors and Specialists earn about 5 to 50 times their salaries every month through the privatisation of their consultations. Some of these are cash payments and hence are not taxable.

Addressing bottlenecks for the growth of the higher education sector

A Presidential Commission to investigate the medical profession will have to address the GMOA’s actions of preventing the Government from earning foreign exchange through overseas students, preventing the upgrading of teaching standards and monitoring systems within the higher educational sector, preventing the achievement of significantly higher rankings amongst the top Universities globally, preventing the achievement of value for money and other efficiencies in the implementation of the channelled private consultation system and any other matters of public interest.

Another significant finding can deal with the extent to which the University curricula are geared to the employment needs within enterprises in Sri Lanka.

The Commission should also recommend measures to be taken to transform the higher education sector to become relevant and achieve the status of a Knowledge Hub in the South Asian region.

(The author living in Melbourne, Australia is a former undergraduate of the University of Sri Lanka, who has been a Vice President of a Student Union and a member of the 20 member Executive Council of the student body responsible for the welfare of nearly 20,000 students. and also a Founding Director of a Private Technical School of Education Registered Training Organisation overseas. He has also worked for the United Nations, Sri Lanka Planning Service and worked as an Assistant Lecturer in the University of Sri Lanka Peradeniya campus. He earned an MSc Degree in Agricultural and Food Marketing from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne under the first Professor of Agri Food Marketing in Europe and Britain in 1978.)