Revisiting Athulathmudali murder investigation| “Confiscate Doctors’ Properties”

The second Sunday Island’s Editorial Doctors’ Strike  (“Confiscate Doctors’ Properties”) follows this. -TW

Image result for lalith athulathmudaliNearly 25 years after his killing, a book titled Lalith Athulathmudali Assassination – The Whole Truth by Prof. Ravindra Fernando was launched last week. Among the speakers at this event was Dayanthe Athulathmudali, Lalith’s brother, who cogently urged that the investigations into this case which remains unsolved in the sense that nobody has been charged for the murder and there has been no conviction, be resumed as in the Lasantha Wickrematunge and Thajudeen cases. This is an eminently reasonable suggestion and the Attorney General, Jayantha Jayasuriya, who was chief guest at the book launch, should seriously consider it. Where the Wickrematunge and Thajudeen matters are concerned, the incumbent government has a vested interest in pursuing them in the hope that these crimes can be fathered on their political opponents. Whether water tight cases, sustainable in a criminal prosecution in court, can be built on either of these cases remain open questions. However that be, what has emerged up to now clearly indicates that whoever the killers were, all kinds of cover-up attempts had taken place and this is a serious slur on both the law enforcement and criminal justice systems in this country.

Lalith Athulathmudali was a frontline politician swept into national prominence by the UNP landslide of 1977. It was common knowledge that he, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa all hoped to succeed the ageing J.R. Jayewardene as president. Premadasa won the prize. Ironically, all three were assassinated, presumably by the LTTE, which had single mindedly pursued a strategy of eliminating the Sinhala leadership of the country and those like the late Lakshman Kadirgamar who stood in the way of their achieving a separate state. Chandrika Kumaratunga narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of a suicide bomber in December 1999, losing an eye when a bomb was exploded near the Town Hall while she was addressing the final rally of her party while seeking re-election as president. Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali, like President Premadasa, were less fortunate.

Professor Ravindra Fernando who has deeply researched the Athulathmudali killing has concluded that the LTTE was responsible for the assassination. He says that all the forensic and scientific evidence and the statements of some eyewitnesses do not dispute that the alleged assassin, whose body was found at Mugalan Road, killed Lalith. He surmises that the suspect, shot by Athulathmudali’s bodyguard, could have run or slowly walked to the place where his body was found. There he had leaned against a wall of a cooperative building, proved by the bloodstains found there, and realizing there was no escape swallowed the cyanide capsule he swallowed. “I hope my considered opinion will clear the doubts that many have about the assassination of Lalith,” the forensic medicine professor has written.

Given the enmity between President Premadasa and Athulathmudali who engineered the impeachment motion against Premadasa, there are many who suspect a Premadasa hand in the killing. President Premadasa himself admitted as much saying “assassinate me if you wish but don’t assassinate my character” before he was murdered by a suicide bomber a few days after Lalith’s killing. The Special Presidential Commission headed by Justice Tissa Bandaranayake pointed a finger in that direction but its findings did not successfully stand the test of judicial examination. The final conclusion, as it stands, is that Athulathmudali was killed by the LTTE. Whether the concerned authorities would wish to revisit the case in the face of some doubts that will not down remains to be seen.

The doctors’ strike

Tens of thousands of patients across the country had to once again bear the cross of being denied medical assistance on account of Friday’s strike by government doctors. Ironically, when government doctors have a dispute with the government, it is the sick who must pay the price. Although cosmetic gestures like providing emergency services and making some special arrangements at children’s hospitals are routinely made on these occasions, the fact is that very large numbers are severely inconvenienced and must suffer in silence. The well to do can and do receive medical attention in private hospitals, dispensaries and other facilities providing paid health care. But the poor, dependent on services provided at government hospitals at taxpayer expense, must do without. As far as we know, the doctors don’t even suffer a pay cut for absenting themselves from work because of a strike. Governments inevitably shut their eyes to this because imposing pay cuts would trigger further confrontation.

It is well known that the continuance of SAITM (South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine), a private fee levying institute graduating doctors, is the bone of contention. Some SAITM graduates, denied registration by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) challenged this action in the Court of Appeal and won their case. That judgment is being canvassed before the Supreme Court by the SLMC. It is not yet clear when the case will be heard and a final determination made. Meanwhile the government has agreed to take over the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital, attached to SAITM to ensure the availability of patients for students’ clinical training. This hospital has up to now attracted insufficient numbers of patients for this purpose. It was the GMOA that prevented the use of two government hospitals, on payment, for giving the necessary clinical training to the students. SAITM, no doubt, is a profit making private enterprise owned by Dr. Neville Fernando and his family. They have agreed to quote the owning company on the Colombo Stock Exchange so that the ownership could be broader based. Whether investors will buy into it is another question.

The GMOA president has fallen flat on his face by failing to inform the channel services that he would not be engaging in private practice while his association was on strike. That enabled film star Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake to get an appointment with Dr. Padeniya, have the fee debited to his credit card and make an issue of double standards on television. The fact is that government doctors are a specially privileged group allowed private practice denied to other government servants. Many of them make a killing on private practice, sometimes during hours they should be in government hospitals, and whether or not these earnings are honestly reported for income tax purposes is a moot point. Leaving aside the immorality of doctors striking, there are disturbing indications of other unions, totally unrelated to medicine, making common cause with the GMOA and trying to head the country towards anarchy. Will the government be able to prevent this is the question on everybody’s mind. Decades ago, Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike’s 1960 government brought striking doctors to heel by threatening to confiscate their property. They scuttled back to work post haste.