The post of director Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital (SJGH) is held by an unqualified person, Colombo Telegraph learns. Thus, a mere medical officer without the required qualifications is enjoying a monthly income of Rs 600 000 of public money.
SJGH, a tertiary care hospital and a post graduate training institute is governed under the Act of Parliament of 54/1983. In March 2015, when Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage assumed duties as chairman SJGH, a medical officer named Dr. Susitha Senaratne materialized, declaring that he has been appointed director SJGH. Senaratne is a medical officer with no post graduate or professional qualifications to hold this office. Kahandaliyanage, a director at Fonterra Brands Sri Lanka and family friend of Senaratne didn’t table this appointment at the SJGH Board, the appointing authority.
Fully aware that the Board cannot approve an irregular appointment of an unqualified person, Kahandaliyanage went on to obtain the approval of the salary for this unqualified, non-appointed ‘director’ while the Board members impotently looked on.
When the 2016 Committee of Public Enterprise (COPE) chaired by Sunil Handunneththi (MP) met, Anura Jayawickrama was the secretary to the Ministry of Health (MOH). The COPE severely criticized SJGH Board for sitting on this irregular appointment. Kahandaliyanage revealed to the COPE that the only ‘letter of appointment’ he has was one issued by D.M.A. R.B Dissanayake the secretary to the MOH in March 2015, addressed to director Lady Ridgeway Hospital requesting Senaratne’s release ‘to cover up duties of director SJGH for three years from 26.03.2015’. Jayawickrama who understood the illegality, convened a meeting of the SJGH Board and instructed the chairman to table this appointment, and if it’s not accepted by the Board, to immediately advertise the position. Kahandaliyanage, promptly agreed and for the next two and a half years did nothing substantial to follow up. In spite of the subsequent written instructions by Jayawickrama via the minutes of the meeting, Kahandaliyanage bought time, stating lamely that he was waiting for the secretary to “tell him what to do”. Contacted by Colombo Telegraph, Kahandaliyanage accepted that to date he hasn’t tabled this letter appointing Senaratne for cover up duties at the SJGH Board.
Noting the delaying tactics of Kahandaliyanage, Jayawickrama via letter to the secretary of COPE, notified this serious irregularity. Kahandaliyanage who denied to Colombo Telegraph of ever receiving a copy of such letter or the minutes of the post-COPE meeting, didn’t inform the Board of this communication and played for time as Jayawickrama was due to retire in few months. In essence, Kahandaliyanage violated the law of the country, the Act of parliament of 54/1983 and the recommendation of the COPE. He systematically suppressed information from the Board playing in to the con artistry of Senaratne in convincing others that political servitude will save him from repercussions. Kahandaliyanage defended this appointment with Colombo Telegraph citing the appointment of 16 specialists to SJGH as per a ministerial directive issued by Nimal Siripala de Silva, former Minister of Health in 2007. Colombo Telegraph learns that while a ministerial directive was indeed issued, all sixteen specialists were fully qualified with Board Certification by the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM). Some of them were recruited following competitive interview in spite of the directive.
At the 2017 COPE meeting, when the COPE re-questioned this matter, Kahandaliyanage rendered an effusive account of praise of the quasi director. Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa who made a cameo appearance at the COPE interrupted the questioning stating “why are you bringing up the past? If the man is efficient we must look to the future” etc. Sujeewa Senasinghe ( MP) and Harshana Rajakaruna (MP) who initially feigned neutrality and impartiality finally got on the Yapa bandwagon stating that this irregular appointment should be regularized, backdated! This shameless act of mercenary by three MPs was received with silent disgust . Senaratne oblivious to the nakedness of this act was reportedly jubilant outside the parliamentary premises stating “ape kattiya genalla Handunneththita duwanna dunna” (“brought our gang and gave Handunneththi a run”). Further at numerous social gatherings, meetings at the MOH, SJGH and the treasury he has been repeating the same sentiments.
There are serious implications on the SJGH Board which has turned a blind eye to this administrative trickery by Kahandaliyanage and Senaratne. With an unlawfully appointed ‘director’ sitting as a Board Member, the SJGH Board is essentially de-funct and illegitimate. Thus, the administrative decisions, disciplinary action and interviews conducted by this unqualified quasi director are invalid. A source at the MOH reported to Colombo Telegraph that Kahandaliyanage, one time Secretary to the MOH, is the laughing stock both at the Ministry and SJGH for letting an unqualified medical officer conduct interviews for the recruitment of fully qualified specialists to SJGH.
The financial transparency of SJGH is jeopardized as the quasi director is a member of the Procurement Committee of SJGH that makes financial decisions amounting to millions. According to the Procurement Guidelines of GOSL, this Procurement Committee is also invalid as the director who is a member isn’t duly appointed to his post. The members of the SJGH Board who are kept informed of the decisions of the Procurement Committee needn’t look beyond the fate of Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Pelpita to understand the fate that await them when the circumstances surrounding the rise of Senaratne from a medical officer to a millionaire come to light. Anula Harasagama, a DDG at the treasury, nor Lalith Senanayake a reputed professional in accounting and auditing ever questioned how a non appointed director is remunerated with public money at a state institution.
When contacted by Colombo Telegraph, Senaratne responded that post graduate qualifications are not essential even to be appointed Director General of Health Services (DGHS) in Sri Lanka, the highest administrative post in the Department of Health. He stated that till recently, even a regular medical officer could be appointed as DGHS, justifying his un-qualified status. He further stated that the SJGH Act doesn’t spell out that the post graduate qualifications must be awarded by the PGIM, the only recognized institution offering such qualifications in Sri Lanka.
Senaratne stated that he has administrative experience as the acting deputy director Accident Service of National Hospital of Sri Lanka from 2008-2013 a claim supported by Kahandaliyanage. Senaratne further stated that from 1997-2000 he was appointed zonal command medical officer for eastern province by the Sri Lanka Air Force, a position he claims is equivalent to Provincial Director of Health in the MOH. When contacted for clarification on how a mere medical officer without qualifications was appointed as such, Janaka Sugathadasa, secretary to the MOH avoided reply, referring the matter to DGHS claiming he was overseas. Dr. Jayasundera Bandara, DGHS, hasn’t responded to Colombo Telegraph to date. Kahandaliyanage maintained his silence on the Colombo Telegraph query on whether he has actually seen letters of appointment placing Senaratne on such administrative positions in Senaratne’s personal file. Colombo Telegraph learns that Senaratne’s temporary personal file at SJGH contain only a few documents, mostly consisting numerous overseas leave applications.
Since assuming office, Senaratne has spent 100 days overseas on unspecified travel and holidays sanctioned by Kahandaliyanage, in violation of the E Code, an allegation Senaratne denies. However Kahandaliyanage twice confirmed to Colombo Telegraph that Senaratne has travelled 100 days overseas. These were described by Kahandaliyange as trips made by Senaratne as a delegate of President, Prime Minister, Minister of Health in official capacity, official trips for SLMC, family trips etc. Accompanying monks with political connections and the Minister of Health for his heart bypass surgery to Singapore were also presented as “official duties” by Kahandaliyanage. Senaratne, when contacted by Colombo Telegraph claimed to be earning Rs 300 000 as the acting director of SJGH. Senaratne uses the prefix “acting” to his designation only in his correspondence with Colombo Telegraph. In all other internal and external official documents and social media he uses the misleading term “director SJGH”. Senaratne further confirmed that he is an administrative consultant to Lanka Hospitals, intriguing considering that Senaratne is essentially unqualified to be an administrator, let alone a consultant on administration. He further claimed that he is earning a similar salary for his ‘job’ at Lanka Hospitals. Thus, a mere medical officer without the required qualifications is enjoying a monthly income of Rs 600 000 of public money. One wonders how such earnings escape the scrutiny of the department of in land revenue.
Senaratne accepts the allegation that Lanka Hospitals has paid partially for his MBA from University of Adelaide, Australia worth Rs 7 80 000. It appears that the Board of Lanka Hospitals is as impotent as that of SJGH squandering public money on educating its ‘administrative consultant’ before obtaining his services. While Kahandaliyanage attempted to portray this MBA as a Master’s degree in Hospital Management, Senaratne, the actual recipient of the degree confirmed it was an MBA. The chairman Lanka Hospitals, Dr. Sarath Paranavithane, when contacted by Colombo Telegraph for clarification didn’t respond.
Few months ago Senaratne drove through the gate of the Nurses Training School of SJGH causing serious damage to structures and was found in a state of unconscious stupor. No inquiry was held in to the damage caused to hospital property by Senaratne and he was promptly flown to Singapore for “treatment” accompanied by the Public Relations Officer of the Minister of Health. In addition to all this, Senaratne’s dog, when sick was transported to and fro to the veterinary surgeon in a patient ambulance of SJGH. Since the death of the dog the ambulance is now used for human transport. When questioned by Colombo Telegraph regarding the misuse of public property by transporting his dog in a hospital ambulance, Senaratne didn’t respond. (By Chinthika De Silva)