SAITM saga:Com­mit­tee is­sues re­port amidst strikes and dis­cus­sions

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Ku­mu­dini Het­tiarachchi

Par­al­lel dis­cus­sions to re­solve the South Asian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Medicine (SAITM) saga con­tin­ued amidst strikes by doc­tors and protest marches, both on foot and by ve­hi­cles, op­pos­ing this pri­vate med­i­cal cam­pus this week.

The Govern­ment on Friday said in a me­dia re­lease that ad­mis­sions to SAITM have been sus­pended un­til the an­nounce­ment of Min­i­mum Stan­dards for Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion.

The five-mem­ber Har­sha de Silva Com­mit­tee ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena to sub­mit the “govern­ment’s so­lu­tion” to the cri­sis is­sued its re­port while the Sri Lanka Med­i­cal Coun­cil (SLMC) is also hav­ing in- depth dis­cus­sions with the of­fice of Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe to find an­swers to the cri­sis.

A new devel­op­ment rais­ing a lot of op­po­si­tion is that some govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions are at­tempt­ing to take away the man­date of the SLMC – by ap­point­ing a Qual­ity As­sur­ance & Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Coun­cil (QAAC) through a new bill with re­gard to higher ed­u­ca­tion – on Min­i­mum Stan­dards for Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion and recog­ni­tion of med­i­cal col­leges, whether state or pri­vate.

“Who has seen the draft bill on higher ed­u­ca­tion which is sup­posed to be in the ‘ fi­nal stages’? Who knows any­thing about the QAAC within this draft bill? Why are the Min­i­mum Stan­dards for Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion not be­ing gazetted? No an­swers to any of the is­sues have been forth­com­ing, though talks and de­bates have been held,” said a health source, a view echoed by many oth­ers who re­it­er­ated that the ba­sic is­sues still re­main.

The ‘ lat­est’ in this com­plex saga en­com­pass­ing SAITM, the SLMC, the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion ( UGC), the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry and the Health Min­istry, with a le­gal bat­tle in the back­drop, was an emer­gency meet­ing of the SLMC on Tues­day (Septem­ber 12), the Sun­day Times un­der­stands.

Amidst much de­bat­ing, the SLMC had taken up two main is­sues, sources told the Sun­day Times:

* The re­sponse of the UGC to the Min­i­mum Stan­dards for Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion pro­posed by the SLMC af­ter tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the views of all stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing the state med­i­cal fac­ulty au­thor­i­ties.

* The re­quest on e-mail by the Har­sha de Silva Com­mit­tee to sign the “min­utes” of the meet­ing be­tween the com­mit­tee and some of the SLMC mem­bers on Septem­ber 6.

With re­gard to the pro­posed Min­i­mum Stan­dards for Med­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion of the SLMC and the sub­se­quent “ma­jor” changes sug­gested by the UGC, the SLMC had de­cided to stand by its orig­i­nal draft and al­low only some mi­nor changes, the Sun­day Times learns.

The re­quest, mean­while, by the Har­sha de Silva Com­mit­tee to sign the “min­utes” had gen­er­ated much heat among the mem­bers dur­ing the emer­gency meet­ing.

“From the be­gin­ning, the Har­sha de Silva Com­mit­tee got on the wrong foot­ing by call­ing, that too at very short no­tice, only some mem­bers and ex­clud­ing oth­ers,” a source pointed out, ex­plain­ing that first only the SLMC’s ‘ ap­pointed’ mem­bers (those who are the nom­i­nees of the Health Min­is­ter and those who by virtue of their posts, as the eight Deans of the state med­i­cal fac­ul­ties or their rep­re­senta- tives get on the SLMC) had been called, gen­er­at­ing much protest within the SLMC. The ques­tion which had im­me­di­ately arisen was one of “bias and par­tial­ity” and whether it was a “de­lib­er­ate” at­tempt to keep out the ‘elected’ mem­bers drawn from among those doc­tors and den­tal sur­geons reg­is­tered with the SLMC. Cur­rently, there are some va­can­cies in the 25-mem­ber SLMC in­clud­ing the post of the Pres­i­dent.

Ul­ti­mately, the SLMC mem­bers who had at­tended the Har­sha de Silva Com­mit­tee meet­ing had been Prof. Ni­lan­thi de Silva, Prof. Rizvi Sher­iff, Prof. Colvin Goonaratne, Prof. Jennifer Per­era, Prof. Narada War­na­suriya, Prof. Su­rangi Ya­sawar­dene, Dr. K. T. Sun­derasan, Dr. Chan­dana Ata­p­attu and Dr. Push­p­i­tha Ube­siri.

An­other source added that the Har­sha de Silva Com­mit­tee had not grasped the fact that some of the SLMC mem­bers had to come from out of Colombo. The other fac­tor was that the SLMC has not seen or an­a­lyzed the draft bill on higher ed­u­ca­tion and as such it would not be ad­vis­able to com­mit it­self on an un­known quan­tity.

The think­ing in health cir­cles is that this com­mit­tee is at­tempt­ing to twist the hand of the SLMC to sign “so-called min­utes” with­out a long, hard look at the is­sues and in­stead bring about a QAAC which in ef­fect will strip the SLMC of its pow­ers in en­sur­ing qual­ity med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and turn it into an in­ef­fec­tive and im­po­tent rub­ber-stamp.

As such, the fi­nal de­ci­sion at the SLMC emer­gency meet­ing had been that the SLMC will not place its sig­na­ture on any such min­utes. (Please see Page 1 for re­lated story)

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