Doctors run amok discarding sacred oath while SriLankan top brass grilled over losses | Sunday Observer

Doctors run amok discarding sacred oath while SriLankan top brass grilled over losses

Patients wait eagerly at the OPD section of the National Hospital on Friday. GMOA called off their strike last morning after a meeting with the President. (Picture by Sudam Gunasinghe)
Patients wait eagerly at the OPD section of the National Hospital on Friday. GMOA called off their strike last morning after a meeting with the President. (Picture by Sudam Gunasinghe)

Elephants, they say, have a long memory. Not so, apparently, retired Army Officers. Last week, while a gaggle of ministers were grilling the Directors of the Sri Lankan Airlines at a meeting convened at the President´s office, one staffer overheard Field Marshal and Minister of Regional Development, Sarath Fonseka, plaintively asking “who is this Sunil Peiris, I think there was a major in the Army by that name.”

The reason for that question became clearer as the meeting developed into a fracas of allegations made against one or two of the Sri Lankan Directors by Ministers Rajitha Seneratne, Ravi Karunanayake and Sarath Fonseka. According to those present at the meeting, there were not many questions about the purported losses the Airline is continuing to incur, but the grilling was mainly about appointments made or not made and about chits sent and not acted.

As we report elsewhere in today´s Sunday Observer, SriLankan Airlines Chairman, Ajith Dias and his board members went for the cabinet meeting expecting to ‘discuss lease agreements’ and profits and losses. However, that was never discussed. Instead he was asked questions which were most to do with human resources. Dias, a top management professional, had tried to steer clear from political interference when he was making management decisions. Nevertheless, the politicians put pressure on him to recruit people who are not qualified and people who did not possess physical requirements often. He declined such requests.

In addition to recruitments, some of the questions related to the salaries of some of the staff members including CEO Suren Ratwatte. Ratwatte who was an Airbus 380 pilot of Emirates before joining SriLankan drew a salary, which is almost three times bigger than what he is getting from SriLankan.

Although SriLankan is a state enterprise, the nature of business here is different from other state owned enterprises and most people, including pilots, cabin crew and other technical staff obviously draw salaries, which are close international salary levels. Most of Sri Lankan pilots draw basic salaries from USD 10,000, according airline sources.

One of the main issues that had been raised had been the termination of former President of the Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka, Captain Sujith Jayasekera, whose refusal to submit to an doping / alcohol test just before operating UL 402 from Colombo to Bangkok in August, last year, led to a series of events that came to end earlier this month when his contract was allowed to lapse and not renewed by the airline.

Dias who has not drawn any salary from SriLankan since he joined, was asked why he has stopped all European flights and continued to run London flights, with one minister accusing him that it was done by Dias as he lives in London and can come for SriLankan board meetings conveniently from London. A similar accusation had also been raised regarding CEO Ratwatte’s family stating that “they are in Australia and Sri Lankan airlines is now trying to fly to Australia to accommodate them. It had been pointed out that all schedule changes were done after intensive studies were done with help of experts and outside parties about the viabilities of routes operated and all decisions were made purely on commercial grounds with full board approval.

The Sunday Observer obtained a copy of a letter received by Dias last week sent to Chairman Dias by Board Member Colonel Peiris, with the heading “Recruitment and Resignation of E.M.B.V.D Ekenayake Post of Security Guard”

In that letter, Colonel Peiris, three years senior to Major Fonseka at the time of Peiris´s retirement from the Army in 1988, states “Arising from the unfounded allegations leveled at me, at a meeting chaired by the HE the President and attended by the Hon Prime Minister, by Hon Minister Sarath Fonseka on the 20th June 2017, I wish to present the true facts with copies of correspondence.”

According to the letter, Colonel Peiris had extended the courtesy of recommending the recruitment of a person, identified as E. Ekenayake to the post of security guard as he had been strongly recommended by a number of government ministers, including Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam. He had been successful at the interviews, had possessed the required qualifications, and had passed the fitness tests. He was recruited, with special consideration given by Colonel Peiris as his application had been made after the closing date.

According to the letter, the process of recruitment took time and Ekenayake had been employed with the other contenders on the 10th August 2016.

The letter states that somewhere in September 2015, an ex Warrant Officer – the father of the security officer – had arrived in Col. Peiris´s office offering him a puppy dog and carrying with him a bottle of Whiskey as gratification for taking his son into employment.

However, his intentions were different. He had requested his son who has barely finished two months service be transferred to Colombo in order that he can continue with his sports and studies. Col. Peiris had responded to his request by saying he cannot be considered for any transfers until he finishes one year of service or at least complete his probation period. “The father accepted this position and left with the bottle of Whiskey and his offer of the Puppy, “ the letter states.

According to the letter, around second week of October Guard Ekenayake along with his mother had returned to Col. Peiris´s office. Once more the mother who was adamant about a transfer of her son began dropping names of Ministers Daya Gamage, Sarath Fonseka, the Principal of Ananda College and others saying she could obtain their help to expedite a transfer to Colombo. At that point, Col. Peiris, “ politely asked her to kindly leave my office and go to all the people she mentioned and seek their assistance to obtain a transfer.”

Following this visit, Chairman Dias had asked Col. Peiris to contact Minister Sarath Fonseka on the telephone as he was complaining that Col. Peiris had spoken disparagingly with reference to the Minister. “Try as I might to reach him on the number given to me I could not reach him. I brought this to your notice. I tried again the following day without success,” the letter now in the possession of this newspaper states.

According to notes made during the meeting at the President´s Office by those present, Colonel Peiris had been asked how much he was paid as a director and he had replied that like Chairman Dias, he does not get paid on a monthly basis and only receives a regular emolument paid to all directors when they attend a board meeting. However, he had said that he worked continuously, without pay, on a daily basis to bring the Human Resources issues at the Airline to a settlement. He had, however, charged, with full board approval, Rs. two million to provide a report that resulted in the airline saving over Rs 200 million that involved a racket where certain members of the staff colluded with asylum seekers and sent passengers without proper visas to the west.

While the ministers were grilling the board about the appointment of a security guard and the transfer of a ground handling manager, the airline had managed to convince the suppliers of the highly contested Airbus A350-900 deal to change the contract for a different variant of the Aircraft, which is more economical and is more suitable to Srilankan routes and traffic projections.

Speaking to Reuters last week, CEO Ratwatte said the European manufacturer had shown a willingness to change the terms of the contract for a different variant of aircraft.

“ We are in consultation with shareholders as to how best we can deal with this,” he said.

SriLankan Airlines has sought to rid itself of the unwanted wide body jets deemed too costly and unsuited to its new regionally oriented business model. It earlier managed to offload three A350-900s due from AerCap, which would have delivered beginning last year. According to the ch-aviation aircraft database, the aircraft - msn 52, 55, and 60 - are now destined for Sichuan Airlines. This news followed a statement to Bloomberg from Emirates denying having shown any interest in the airline, despite the government announcing, unofficially, that Emirates was in negotiation to purchase some share of the beleaguered airline.

Cabinet last week discussed the future of loss making state institutions, including the State Engineering Corporation. Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne had said that there was a need to construct two government hospitals and proposed that the project be handed over to the State Engineering Corporation.

However, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera had proposed that a competitive bidding process be opened for the project. Samaraweera and Indian Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley had talks in South Korea also last week. The discussion focused on future Indian investments in Sri Lanka. Samaraweera attended the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) Annual Meeting in Jeju Islands, and held bilateral discussions with Jaitley and Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on the sidelines of the Board of Governors meeting of the AIIB and discussed issues of mutual interest. The annual meeting is the Bank’s flagship event, which brings together and facilitates discussions between members, partner institutions, civil society organizations, the media, and leading experts across a range of fields. This year’s meeting is on the theme ‘Sustainable Infrastructure’ in recognition of the challenge Bank members face in making infrastructure investments while fulfilling ambitious environmental commitments.

Elsewhere, events turned tragi-comical after the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) launched an “indefinite” strike protesting against the government´s strong reaction to the events that unfolded at the Ministry of health on Wednesday last week.

Convener of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Lahiru Weerasekara and Convener of the Inter University Bhikkhu Federation (IUBF) Venerable Tampitiye Sugathananda Thera was arrested by police following clashes that took place on Wednesday after students stormed and occupied a building of the Health Ministry. Police and Special Task Force (STF) later resorted to a baton charge to evict them resulting in almost 90 students being injured along with several police and STF personnel.

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has accused the students of causing almost Rs. one million in damages to Health Ministry property during the incident.

Ugly scenes followed in hospitals around the country when Doctors forgot their sacred oath and decided not to treat patients because their trade union is following a political target and supporting a gaggle of political extremists, mostly members of the JVP break away group led by its former head of the armed faction, Kumar Gunaratnam, who incidentally, received his dual citizenship papers, also last week.

In one hospital in Polonaruwa district, a non-striking doctor, who had resigned his membership of the GMOA, is reported to have written 400 prescriptions in one day with the help of a couple of police officers who had been press-ganged by the Samaritan doctor to provide the service his colleagues should have provided.

The GMOA called off their strike last morning after a meeting with the President. As reported elsewhere in today´s newspaper, they are calling for the implementation of a five-point plan that was earlier agreed between the government, the Sri Lanka Medical Council, the GMOA, and the students. Meanwhile, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera was to tell this newspaper last morning that the police are closely examining evidence from a press briefing held by the GMOA on Friday evening where it is alleged that a GMOA representative said students will be compelled to take up arms if their demands are not heeded. The newly re-appointed Police spokesman said the police are analyzing the statement to see “if it falls under any offence and then initiate investigation.”

The police, it appears, is playing safe, specially after their wrists were “flicked” by the judiciary last week, when one of the most sought after persons, who were being sought by not one, but four police teams for more than three weeks, Venerable Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, was enlarged on bail. Last week, Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies, Temple University in Japan, writing to the prestigious Japan Times described how Ven Gnanasara claimed that he was better than President Trump as he is able to control “Muslims better”.

“‘Trump is a good man and I pray for him every day,” Galagoda Atte Gnanasara told me in late April, later bragging that he himself is even better than U.S. President Donald Trump.

Gnanasara is Sri Lanka’s notorious rabble-rousing monk and leader of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or Buddhist Power Force, a radical nationalist religious organization. He draws crowds of tens of thousands and is known for inciting violence targeting Muslims. Gnanasara’s praise for Trump came when I asked him about the Muslim travel ban.” The article stated.

It was not only the “notorious rabble-rousing monk” as Venerable Gnanasara is described in the article that saw sunlight after being released from custody on bail, but also the military intelligence personnel who are alleged to have assaulted journalist Keith Noyah.

The suspects were released on bail on Rs.35, 000 surety, one relative and one government servant and a Rs.1.5 Million personal bail and had to submit to court their passports. Rohantha Abeysuriya, Deputy Solicitor General with Lakmini Girihagama appeared for the State while Hemantha Warnakulasuriya PC with Champa Monarawela, Surangi Basnayake, and Tharanga Semasinghe appeared for the six suspects.