By Granville Perera –
The ERPM Mafia run by some of the local doctors charge a minimum of Rs. 1200 per student for a two hour session and one such class in Wellawatte has 400 students. That’s a cool Rs. 480,000 in tax-free loot. This is just one of many classes in Colombo and there are many in the outstations too. Thousands of medical graduates who have been in the worst possible hellholes in China, Bangladesh, Russia, and the former Russian republics are forced in to this torture. The lecturing doctors admit to the students that only a small percentage of them would pass, as there is an agreed quota only to be passed so that they could maintain their status quo. Dr. Palitha Maheepala in a press statement in July last year claimed “Sri Lanka is facing a severe shortage of doctors and needs another 2,500 doctors at least. Currently there is one doctor for 1,350 people and the doctor shortage has been intensified due to the expansion of the health sector”, Dr. Mahipala said. Now they want the SAITM students to join this queue. These mercenary merchants of blood have been amply exposed by the brilliance of some of the students of SAITM.It is the heart-breaking stories written by SAITM students #mySAITMStory that exposes the tragedy of some of the best brains in our country. A social media campaign to tarnish the image of SAITM by claiming that these stories are written by an advertising agency has hit the anti-SAITM lobby badly, as the stories are genuine expressions of hope and aspirations of our future leaders. Most of them have chosen to stay, study and serve the country as true patriots when they could have chosen reputed universities across the world and opportunities of green pastures upon completion as medical professionals in developed nations. The mySAITMStories are going viral in social media because it is for the first time that these students are challenging the misinformation campaign of the Government Medical Officer Association (GMOA), Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) and the University Students Unions. SAITM is a well-invested commercial project financed by Dr Neville Fernando, and cannot be matched by any private investment that would provide the youth with such educational opportunities. This project is worth every cent that was spent to help realize the hopes, aspirations and dreams of our future generation of Sri Lankan doctors.
Today, the general public has been provided with counter information of the mudslinging campaign of the anti-government forces who are hell bent in destabilizing the country. The Joint Opposition (JO) is threatening to bring together all the trade unions to protest against SAITM. This exposes the Rajapaksa hypocrisy and the political agenda of all those involved.
The Joint Opposition
Mahinda Rajapaksa helped create the SAITM medical school and even gave 10 scholarships to those who could not make it to the state medical facilities. Proof that he fully approved the facility, but now in opposition. This is seen by his so called Joint Opposition as a golden opportunity to destabilize the country so that the FCID investigations, Thajudeen, Lasantha, Ekneligoda murders, etc. and numerous other corruption charges would be shelved. These accusations are hanging like the “the Sword of Democles” on the Rajapaksa family and there is a need to get back to power or threaten to come back to power just to keep themselves away from the gallows. When it is appropriate, President Sirisena may not hesitate to bring the hangman back. It’s time that the Government called the Rajapaksa bluff and listened to these innocent children of SAITM and provide a platform for constructive debate and dialogue on this vital development need of private education. Every year, 80,000 children who qualify their A/Ls are deprived of admission to state universities
Sri Lanka was once reputed to produce some of the best doctors in the world until the system was changed to enter substandard recruits from rural areas. This has destroyed the credibility of doctors as well as made university education a farce. Not all schools in the urban areas can boast of equal standards but the children are placed in the same district ranking, while children from lesser-developed districts get priority in admissions with far less averages.
The outcasts from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and other political opportunists are attempting a regime change through destabilization. The mediocre medical practitioners who are members of the GMOA have come out to oppose private medical education, as it would challenge their comfort zones and private income. They are making good use of gullible university students to meet their ends by getting them on to the streets to protest.
Sri Lanka is the only country in the South East Asian region that provides free education from the cradle to a Phd. This is being done at great cost to the state coffers and the Sri Lankan taxpayer. There is no argument that Government support for free education should be maintained, but until and unless the country hits black gold, we would not be able to provide that to every aspiring Sri Lankan child. So, encouraging private higher education is the only options. THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD SHOULD AND MUST PAY, so that the less fortunate ones will be able to continue getting free education. The JVP and the other protesters claiming that SAITM is a threat to free education is deaf and blind to all other hundreds of graduate courses that are offered in Law, Engineering, IT, Social Sciences and other fields of study. What is their justification to protest only the medical degree? Accounting and Finance courses have been in existence for 50 years. Are they not private education? The JO knows well that they can pump up the mercenary doctors (who go on strike for duty free vehicles and school admission for their children) to hold the nation and its poor patients to ransom. The GMOA lot consists of many doctors who have sat for their A/Ls from rural areas and have managed to creep in to government universities with far less qualifications than that of the SAITM undergraduates. Some of them have the minimum SLMC requirement of 2Cs and 1S. What is it that makes these medical professionals sacred cows? They like many others follow a degree programme and join the work force as medical professionals. Of course they realize that they could hold the sick to ransom in government hospitals. Do not forget, those who can afford private medication will not line up from 3AM to see a doctor in a government OPD. Here lies the Government’s responsibility to treat them the same way the protestors of the Hambantota harbour were treated. Until and unless the Government and the general public stand up to these mercenaries, life will not change for the poor. They will protest at the government hospitals and rush to do their private channeling and practice. If a few people would treat them with what they deserve, this menace would end.
The protestors complain that the education standards at SAITM are below that of state universities, which may have some justification, but the SAITM university since its inception has had an impressive set of teaching staff that was not available in Rajarata, Eastern or even Ruhuna universities when they started. The SAITM website claims that “SAITM was granted degree awarding status for MBBS programmes published in gazette notifications No. 1721/19 dated August 30, 2011 and as amended by Government Gazette No. 1829/36 dated September 26, 2013 SAITM under Universities Act of 1978. The degree awarded by SAITM is legally on par with the MBBS degree awarded by all state universities in Sri Lanka”.
Why can’t the SLMC or the GMOA or for that matter the JVP go to courts to remove this if it is misleading the public? Do they not know that their plaint would be dismissed? The Government alone cannot fulfill the education needs of the country unless they open up at least 50 more universities. Progress has been made during the last three decades because of the liberalization of the economy and education. Hundreds of institutions offer graduate or post graduate studies in Sri Lanka. We have become a nation in the ranking of middle-income group from the begging bowl label that we was attached to us. This Government, which came to power with the promise of developing the country with an educated workforce, has to take stern action against those who oppose private education in Sri Lanka as they alone cannot cope with the demands of our growing youth population. For the GMOA, it is inadequate standards, for the JVP and Peratugami, it is privatisation of education and for the SLMC, it is probably just that a trip to Malabe is not as exciting as a luxury trip to CHONGQING in Mainland China. The SAITM private medical university has become more than any other, a political trump card for the Joint Opposition.
They have found the SAITM issue as a goldmine for street protests that will have the ready support of the JVP, Peratugami and the student unions. The JVP, who have been criticized for sleeping with the Government as “Rathu Ali Patiyas” have made use of the opportunity to regain the backing of the university students with these street tamashas. It is often claimed by the GMOA that you cannot entrust the health of a nation to a bunch of substandard medical practitioners. I challenge the GMOA to place the A/L results of their Executive Committee members and we can persuade SAITM management to place on public forum at least 100 SAITM students who have higher qualifications than the GMOA executive membership. Most of these Government medical graduates have entered medical college through the back door with the minimum requirements because of their home being in a district considered underprivileged. Please see UGC criteria at http://www.cmb.ac.lk/index.php /admissions/. Some students from Urban centres with even 2 As and a B don’t get entrance to a State medical school. SAITM has come forward to offer some concessions through scholarships to some of these students to fulfil their dreams of medical education.
When SAITM was inaugurated, the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself chose 10 students for scholarships at SAITM who had missed entrance to state universities. How can anyone think that the Government will not assist the students if they had any difficulty with clinical training when there was approval from the Executive President himself? The money machine of the GMOA membership wants these kids to sit for the ERPM examination to torment them further. They now operate 4 centres in Colombo alone and many more in the outstations to prepare foreign graduates for the ERPM examinations. I visited one such hellhole lectured by a consultant doctor and there were 400 students in it. He charges Rs. 1200 per person for a two-hour session. That is a cool TAXFREE 480,000 in 2 hours. I don’t think even the business magnate Dhammika Perera of Vallibel One Group fame makes that kind of money. (Ravi, send your taxman and take off the taxes on essential goods for the poor). And interviewing some of these kids after lectures, the tragedy of their struggle becomes clear. They say “our lecturers have even told us that only a certain quota approved by GMOA and SLMC will pass”. No wonder even the CEO of SAITM had to sit 8 times!!!.
The examination results are skewed to ensure that there are doctor shortages everywhere and they can take whatever trade union action they want.. What a tragedy for children who have spent millions, spent five or six years with difficulty in places like China, Russia, Belarus, and Bangladesh, and still continue to suffer because of the GMOA and SLMC. There is no country on earth where doctors have gone on strike to get car permits and admission of their children in to the best schools by holding a country to ransom. The Government failed to intervene with a firm resolve and these Shylocks continue to hold the country to ransom. My grandmother’s generation elevated doctors to this high pedestal. Of course most of them in that generation were honorable women and men, but would never have dreamt that two generations later, there would be such hooligans in their profession. What is it that these holier than thou maniacs have that other university graduates do not have? Yes, they hold our life in their hands, which they use to bargain for their selfish gain. There will come a time where a patient will hold their lives in his or her hands and ensure that justice prevails. This will come sooner than one could imagine. I have been an ardent believer in likes of the JVP and the Frontline Socialist Party to be the alternative to the dominance of the ultra right UNP and the SLFP, but their selfish motives on the future education of Sri Lankan youth makes me question their motives. 80,000 children are denied university entrance every year due to the lack of facilities. Why are these alternate political parties not getting on to the streets and demand more state universities? Every student who opts for private education is opening up the space for another poor child to enter the state university system. These champions of Socialism don’t seem to understand this simple logic. The Sri Lankan road users are becoming frustrated with the continued harassment on city streets. Some of them spend more than 4 hours trying to reach their offices and back due to these protests. It would not be long before frustrated motorists vent their anger on these selfish protestors. They cause so much havoc that it may end up with such a tragedy. The parents of these state university students who are used as pawns by the Mahinda Rajapaksa opposition will have to take responsibility for the irrational behaviour of their children.