By Sarath N Perera (Daily Mirror)
If the pot calling the kettle black type article of Dr. Jeevana Mendis, which appeared recently in the ‘Daily Mirror” on the above subject for the consumption of the general public (gullible readers) goes unanswered or without being properly answered, it might cause irreparable damage to the opinion of the fair minded or the balanced minded citizens of the country with regard to the GMOA and its repeated stoppages of work or as they call it trade union actions.
At the very outset, I as a direct and indirect taxpayer in Sri Lanka must say that though I do not accept the contents of Dr. Mendis’ article which are erroneous and misleading, I respect his right to hold his opinion or view on the matter as a member of the trade union of government doctors though it is called Government Medical Officers’ Association.
As claimed by the learned doctor in his article it is now an accepted fact among the public that almost all politicians and their cronies and henchmen are engaged in making money not only by misappropriation of public funds but also by fraud, corruption and bribery and thereby have become the biggest holders of black money second only to drug traffickers, and it is very unfortunate to see some powerful corrupt politicians are in the payroll of well known drug traffickers in the country and overseas.
When you read the doctor’s article as a whole, his complaint is that as the ministers and the other parliamentarians are the worst culprits wasting public money it is a joke for them to accuse doctors alone. It is similar to the common complaints of some politicians when charges are levelled against them that the law enforcement authorities are not taking action against some government politicians. This is like one set of culprits are saying to another set of culprits not to throw stones from the glass houses.
In the same breath I must say with thanks that the learned doctor has not forgotten the fact that from politicians in the highest place to the ordinary man on the street are chanting a ‘manthra’ saying that since the doctors are educated with the tax payers’ money it is the duty or the obligation on the part of the doctors to serve the very people who fund their education. They are chanting that manthra because they are of that view. No one can complain about that as they too are entitled to hold their view and in one way or the other they too have contributed for the free education of the country and the doctors to obtain further qualifications and specialized training in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Therefore it is very clear that by citing many an occasion of how the politicians arc playing out public funds the author cannot justify the doctors and medical students wasting public money. It is not a secret that not only the doctors but all government servants are paid for their services not by the government or by the politicians but by the state through the money collected from the common man of the country, by way of direct and indirect taxes. The indirect taxes are 80% of the total taxes and therefore you must be mindful of the fact that even a pauper who drinks a plain cup of tea from a roadside kiosk is also a contributor to the salaries of government servants inclusive of doctors. It is also not a secret that this section of the poor people are the main beneficiaries of the free medical services of the country as they are unable to pay the doctors who are selling medical services to the patients through private medical institutions.
Sri Lanka being a democratic country, all employees of Sri Lanka except a few in the armed forces and police are constitutionally guaranteed the formation of trade unions to safeguard the terms and conditions of their respective service or employment, violation of which is generally considered an industrial dispute. A trade union has a fundamental right to engage in strike action to safeguard the condition of service or employment at an industrial dispute, but only as a last resort because the ultimate victims of strikes are the ordinary citizens of the country.
It is not my task in this article to discuss the propriety or the legality of the repeated strikes organized by the GMOA sometimes in collaboration with some other trade unions, when those unions have their own and separate conditions of service or employment to maintain and safeguard. By writing this what I wish to show is, that not attending to educational activities by the medical faculty students for so long will definitely waste public money allocated for medical education by taxpayers of this country, because whether the students attend lectures or not the expenses incurred by the medical faculty are the same.
In view of all that I said above it is regrettable to note that Dr. Jeevana Mendis is trying to single out doctors in the GMOA and portray them as a special category of government servants on the basis that they contribute to the free health care services, doing on call duties, maintaining high health care standards, treating various types of patients of accidents, natural disasters and civil wars etc. conveniently forgetting the fact that they were taught by the state by spending billions of rupees for those very purposes and also on a very attractive monthly salary, overtime and many more perks for which no tax payer or other government servant who does not enjoy such high salaries and perks ever complain against.
We as taxpayers of this country who have unfortunately no voice, by funding the free medical education of the country expect only one thing in return, that is a healthy society. I think that is a very fair expectation of us by all means. At this juncture it is very pertinent to note the fact that most of the doctors who are practising now and medical students who are budding doctors would not have pursued or shall not pursue their medical education unless the state allocated funds for the free medical education at the government medical faculties by using taxpayers’ money. Therefore doctors are eternally in-debted to the ordinary citizens of the country for making them doctors and further educate them to obtain additional qualifications and specialized training in Sri Lanka and abroad which enhanced their capacity to earn more and more at private practice on which the income tax department does not have control at all.
So as I demonstrated, there is a duty and obligation for a doctor to serve his or her motherland without going after greener pastures and earning several times the salary a doctor can earn in Sri Lanka as stated by the author in the article, because no man will knowingly fund anybody to be a medical student or a doctor to obtain qualifications to serve in a foreign country at his expense.
Ironically Dr. Jeevana Mendis has given another reason why doctors should be treated differently from other professionals. According to him the public are completely oblivious to the difficulties of the medical students and their families when their children are studying for medical degrees. It is natural for the ordinary public to be oblivious about the situation in the higher studies sphere but it is unbelievably surprising for a professional like Dr. Mendis to be in the complete dark of the difficulties faced by the other students and their families as well of the other streams of higher education like engineering, accountancy, agriculture, law and many more when they pursue their selected fields of education. The whole paragraph of the article of Dr. Mendis regarding the difficulties of the medical students are without any exception relevant to the other streams of higher education as well. So there is hardly any difference between doctors and other professionals on that account.
In any case it is an open secret that nobody forces any student to pursue medical education or for that matter any other stream of education. Therefore no one is entitled to complain about the difficulties when pursuing their chosen field of education as students are well aware of not only the difficulties but also the prospects and fortunes awaiting them before hand.
According to the trade union activists of the GMOA, all their strikes are 100% successful and almost all government hospitals are at a standstill at the time of the strike. Therefore taking into account the total working hours lost of all workers due to work stoppages of the doctors alone, no fair-minded man will deny the fact that the so-called strikes of the GMOA is in fact a waste of public money which is in anyway not beneficial to the general public.
Dr. Jeevana Mendis in his article said that he was compelled to write his article after listening to some comments regarding money spent to educate doctors (I think it should be corrected to say educate the doctors and budding doctors). In this respect I wish to pose one single question to the learned doctor i.e. why are the doctors of the GMOA getting together with the government medical faculty students and causing them to refrain from educational activities and cause the waste of public funds while private medical college students are carrying on their educational activities?
So I wish to conclude by quoting the same paragraph of the article of Dr. Mendis which goes on as follows; ‘So are doctors wasting public money spent on their education? It is high time the people realize the truth and understand who is really giving them full value for their money and who is actually wasting them”.