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Sunday, 8 September 2002  
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Indigenous medicine practitioners and allopathy

Unani was the system of medicine practised by the ancient Greeks. This system continues to be practised in some form in India and Pakistan. It is from India that this system of Unani medicine was introduced to Ceylon in the late nineteen twenties. With the introduction of Unani medicine it was expected that this system, alongside Ayurveda and Siddha, would become another alternative to allopathic system of medicine. These expectations from all three systems proved to be wrong.

From the Unani section, excepting for a negligible few, most took up the practice of Allopathic medicine, albeit illegally. Even to the present day, most of these Unani graduates and an equally significant number of Ayurveda and Siddha graduates practise, illegally, the Allopathic system of medicine. Although the regulations are in place to nab these illegal practitioners, they get away with blue murder due to the laxity of the authorities.

When officers authorized by the Department of Health attempted to bring these 'qualified quacks' to book, the same department strangely enough issued a circular preventing these officers from carrying out this duty. The Ayurvedic Medical Council, it was stated, would bear this responsibility. Needless to say, this never happened and the 'qualified quacks' continue merrily to perpetrate their fraud.

It is said that the reason being put forward by the graduates of this system of medicines, especially the Unani system, is that raw drugs are not available in this country and therefore they are compelled to turn to allopathic medicine. If ever there was a lopsided logic, then this is it. Apparently, a twist to the "if there is no bread, let them eat cakes"., tale!

If the non-availability of drugs is the reason for these indigenous graduates illegally taking to the practice of allopathic medicine, then all that needs to be done is for the concerned authorities to make available the raw drugs. I fail to see any difficulty in taking this action.

The state is not maintaining an indigenous medicine institution at great public expense, only to see many of the graduates involve themselves in illegitimate activity at the end of the course. In that case, the state may as well close down these white elephants.

They could instead spend these valuable resources on the 'paramparika' native physicians who are doing an honest job of work and are dedicated to their ancestral profession and who toil without recognition. The truth of the matter is that many of those who join the indigenous medicine courses do so only to obtain a licence to set up a practice. Once they achieve this, they then set about their illegal practice of allopathic medicine.

The lives of hundreds of patients, are at risk at the hands of these 'qualified quacks'. Yet the authorities seem to be completely oblivious to this situation either through negligence or by design. The SLMC has prohibited its registered practitioners from training this category.

What it hopes to achieve from this is not very clear but at least it is a start. The SLMA on the other hand is concerned about the fundamental rights of these indigenous graduates but does not seem to voice concern about the rights of innocent patients exposed to risks at the hands of these 'qualified quacks'.

Perhaps the solution to this situation lies in the hands of the indigenous graduates themselves. It is they who should look inwards and realize that the income that they earn and with which income they feed, clothe, house and educate their children and build the future of their family is illegitimate to the very last cent.

It is income earned by practising a profession, which in law requires a licence, and which licence they do not possess. It is income earned by knowingly breaking the laws of this country.

If I am not mistaken, in law such people are known as criminals.

These individuals should heal and cleanse themselves of this criminal malady before genuinely thinking of healing others using the glorious knowledge of indigenous medicine, which they have learnt. Please do not degrade this honourable indigenous system for a fistful of rupees.

M. Nilofer

Trade unions and privatization

The trade unions reportedly fear massive loss of jobs with the privatization of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, Co-operative Wholesale Establishment, Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, Sri Lanka Railways, cluster bus companies, and the like. This expression of fear is a tacit acknowledgment that these organisations are overstaffed. If these organisations can be run efficiently and well with much fewer employees after privatisation (as seems to be the case and is tacitly acknowledged by the trade unions), it is a very good reason that they should be privatised, not that they should not. The trade unions have unwittingly made a very strong case for privatisation!

Trade unionists and others should be made to understand that organisations such as those mentioned above do not primarily exist to provide jobs, but jobs are offered and provided by them so that they could be run efficiently and well - not more jobs than really necessary, yet without overworking anyone. It is an evidence of inefficiency and poor economics to have more employees than necessary.

Norman Jansz , 
Moratuwa.

Drug trafficking - cause for concern

The Sunday Observer of June 30 states that Interior Minister John Amaratunga, who was present at the National Drug Control Awards ceremony 2002 held in Colombo to commemorate "international Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking" on June 26, has expressed his serious concern about those, who smuggle illicit drugs and said inter-alia that it has become a difficult task to nab drug traffickers as Sri Lanka has become an international hub for trafficking of illicit drugs to Western Asian and the Far Eastern Countries.

But he has not elaborated as to how this sordid situation was brought about on revalued any action plan contemplated to extricate the country from this predicament and cause it cease to be so-called "international Hub" for drug trafficking forthwith. Inaction or laxity in respect of this crucial problem is likely to be perceived as pusillanimous acceptance of a fait accompli, which may possibly sully the credibility of the Minister as well as the governance.

Be that as it may, the government cannot possibly escape the onus of eradicating the drug menace at any cost however difficult it may appear to be. As such it is incumbent upon the minister to leave no stone unturned to put an end to smuggling of heroin into the country and rid the country of this baneful drug menace and save the health of the nation.

In this connection I wish to focus attention on my letter under the caption "Twin Menace of Drugs and Kasippu", which appeared in the readers' forum of the Sunday Observer of June 02 wherein I adverted to a news item appeared in the Sunday Observer of March 03 which quoted Interior Minister John Amaratunga as having announced that his ministry would launch an intensive campaign to eradicate the drug menace.

To utter dismay and bewilderment of those who hailed it as a laudable gesture, the minister appeared to have made no mention about the envisaged intensive campaign at this ceremony. Instead the minister is reported to have stated that an effective programme has been launched by the government to save young persons from drug addiction. Such preventive programmes and rehabilitation programmes are indeed absolutely necessary at this critical juncture, but seemingly may not have the desired effect and may sometimes prove to be a mere wastage of public funds on a futile exercise unless and until heavy influx of heroin into the country is checkmated simultaneously.

As articulated by the minister, it is admittedly a difficult task to combat a monstrous menace of this nature, yet not impossible to at least whittle it down to the barest minimum, if the government motivate police, excise, customs and army at its command to make a genuine effort with unflagging commitment and zeal to clamp down on smuggling of heroine into the country. Will-power, consistency and tenacity of purpose seem to be the desiderata at the moment. Where there is a will there is a way.

Since drug trafficking by and large is an outrageous crime against the society, more heinous than a crime of murder, I have mooted in my aforesaid letter that drug trafficking should be classified as a capital punishment together with provision to confiscate movable and immovable properties of the convict. I reiterate that legislation to this effect should be enacted anon.

P. Herbert Mendis , 
Boossa.

We must always count the cost

Sri Lanka is virtually bankrupt. Shall we blame our President or our Prime Minister or both for this predicament. Perhaps they cannot be absolved from all blame, but if we are to face the facts squarely and intelligently, we will acknowledge that the roots of the present crisis had its beginnings when they were yet children.

We have yet to learn, but we must now learn, that even though something is intrinsically good and may result in some good, we may not be able to afford it, and therefore should not insist on it. It is imperative to count the cost of anything we would like to have.

One thing we never really counted the cost of was free education, undoubtedly something intrinsically very good (and incidentally at the time it was mooted politically advantageous to have subscribed to and politically disastrous to have opposed). The stark fact is that we never were really able to afford it. Hence government teachers have never been adequately paid, schools never adequately equipped, and school buildings and premises never properly maintained (barring a few showpieces like Royal College).

Another of our costly ventures is Health (Government hospitals are free). However, we can bring ourselves to accept that health is a dire necessity, and that we could and should have had it, provided nothing else was free or subsidized rice and even free rice. Fortunately we do not have that now, though we have had other subsidies - some in disguised form.

The average Sri Lankan's concept of a good government is one that gives things free or at a subsidized rate, without expecting the people to endure any hardship even though circumstances may seemingly warrant it. Finance Ministers are expected to be some sort of wizards or magicians, able to devise budgets that place no burdens on the common man, yet please the business community. They too must not call for any sacrifice on the part of anyone, but ensure future prosperity.

Politicians sometimes speak casually of the necessity for hard work and thrift, the necessity for fewer holidays, and the necessity of cutting down on subsidies, but they are never serious in implementing what they say. To do so may be deemed politically suicidal.

Sri Lanka's present predicament is a result of the accumulated follies of all our governments, of the last 55 years, both UNP and SLFP. Some were more to blame than others, but it is futile and purposeless to try to assign degrees of blame. Apart from giving things free or subsidized, there was the very costly exercise of antagonizing the Tamil community. This has proved to be extremely costly in more than one way.

The time has come when the people should be fooled no longer. Perhaps they cannot be fooled any longer. They must be told that most, if not all, subsidies must go. They must be told they will have to bear hardships. It is time for the Opposition to make history by not exploiting the present situation for narrow political advantage. It appears that foreign lending agencies are laying down conditions - to compel the government to take necessary but unpopular measures. This should have been done a long time ago.

Norman Janaz, 
Moratuwa.

Limits on bank ownership

Hats off to Central Bank officials for putting its foot down on bank raiders by enforcing the 10% rule on bank ownership at last. It will go a long way towards protecting the depositors who have always been the losers. Our minds go back a few years when we remember finance companies failing one after the other. Fortunately there hasn't been many recently and depositors are beginning to forget what a bank or finance company failure would mean to the depositors, many of them pensioners and those who have taken voluntary retirement packages.

There are rumblings that even some of the seemingly stable ones are not that solid on closer scrutiny which is overlooked by the ordinary investor who is attracted only by the high rate of interest. Past record of directors, capital strengths, lending procedures, correctness of published accounts, honesty and integrity of directors and staff are all forgotten in the face of high interest offered.

The proverb "higher the risk higher the reward" is almost unknown. The ruling on bank and finance company ownership being enforced at last will make sure that no single party can start a bank or finance company and use depositors' money to enrich themselves. The 10% limit will mean that at least 5 investors have to get together before being able to influence the Board of Directors and offers a simple but effective safeguard to the depositors.

But this rule will be of no value if the Central Bank is going to permit connected parties to get together to achieve the same end. These authorities have in the past failed miserably on this count leading to collapse of many a finance company. Let's hope that Central Bankers will be wiser and braver this time.

Abaya Samaraweera , 
Kolonnawa.

 

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