GMOA, finally made to eat humble pie | Sunday Observer

GMOA, finally made to eat humble pie

In a verdict that probably didn’t receive the publicity it deserved, the Supreme Court last week ordered the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to register a graduand who had qualified from the South Asian Institute of Technology of Medicine (SAITM).

Ironically, the institution itself is no more, having wound up operations in the face of opposition from students in state universities and more importantly the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), the trade union of doctors which had no hesitation in staging strike after strike against the existence of the private medical school, even though they put patients’ lives at risk every time they did so.

The GMOA initially claimed that it was fighting to protect the standard of medical education. The SLMC, then headed by Carlo Fonseka appeared to support that argument. However, every effort that the Government made to strike a compromise and ensure the futures of hundreds of SAITM students was stymied by the GMOA and SLMC acting in concert.

This is when the GMOA’s true colours emerged. It seemed strange that a trade union consisting of medical professionals who thought of themselves as the best brains in the country by virtue of scoring the highest ‘Z’ scores and gaining entrance to state medical faculties had forgotten that SAITM existed for more than half a dozen years before protesting against it.

It is also a strange coincidence that the GMOA’s opposition to SAITM emerged only after the previous government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa was ousted, despite the GMOA’s seemingly lifelong President Anurudhdha Padeniya campaigning vociferously for his re-election. It was during Rajapaksa’s tenure in office that SAITM was established and he actively supported it, offering scholarships to ten students selected to study Medicine there.

For its part, SAITM also made terrible mistakes. It enrolled large numbers of students promising them what could not be delivered and took two batches of students a year. Clearly, the management of SAITM saw a goldmine in the medical school and wanted to make maximum profits. So, they threw caution to the wind and let their guard drop.

Still, the SAITM concept- that of private medical education in Sri Lanka was worth salvaging because it would have provided Sri Lankan students with an affordable alternative. The absurdity of all this is that each year, hundreds of Sri Lankan youngsters leave the country’s shores and spend millions of rupees to gain a medical degree in overseas universities.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the standards of these universities are as rigorously scrutinised by the SLMC and the GMOA. Nevertheless, these students return to Sri Lanka, sit a qualifying examination and practise as doctors. Surely, SAITM students could have been granted the same concession? The Government, without a steamroller majority in Parliament- the kind of which Rajapaksa enjoyed- attempted to implement many compromises. It proposed to classify SAITM as a public listed company. It then took over SAITM’s management in the belief that it would appease the GMOA and the SLMC. All of this was of no avail, and finally, in an act of desperation, SAITM students were enrolled at the Kotelawela Defence Academy (KDU) as fee levying students.

Even the latter is mired in controversy. The KDU is insisting that SAITM students transferred to them pay them millions of rupees as additional fees. That all of SAITM’s students are sons and daughters of super rich businessmen is a popular myth.

The vast majority of them have found funds with the greatest difficulty and invested their children’s futures with SAITM only because it was more affordable than sending their offspring overseas.

Now, they are called upon to pay amounts of money they don’t have. SAITM is not the country’s first experiment with private medical education.

The North Colombo Medical College (NCMC), set up in the ’80s in Ragama under the Presidency of J. R. Jayawardene, ran into similar heavy weather. Under fire from an insurrection from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Jayewardene’s successor, Ranasinghe Premadasa nationalised the NCMC and it is now the Medical Faculty of the University of Kelaniya.

Where the NCMC differed from SAITM was because it was administered by the College of General Practitioners, an academic body with impeccable credentials whose only motive was delivering medical education of good quality- and not making a profit.

Even though the NCMC ceased to exist, its graduates have excelled all over the world and gave the lie to the assertion that a student’s performance at the A/L examination should be the sole criterion for entry to medical school.

Indeed, the current President of the Ceylon College of Physicians and the Sri Lanka Medical Association, the two most prestigious medical bodies in the country, are NCMC graduates! The Supreme Court verdict last week, commendable as it is, comes a little too late to save SAITM or for that matter, private medical education in the country.

If the GMOA erred- wittingly, to gain their own selfish objectives- the Government also erred unwittingly in rushing to abolish SAITM. Had it waited until the Supreme Court made its determination, it could have dealt with the SAITM issue from a position of strength, rather than from a position of abject weakness. Nevertheless, the court verdict must be sweet justice for the aggrieved SAITM students.

They have suffered for long and wasted the best years of their lives fighting an uphill legal battle just to embark on their chosen career. This is a sad reflection of how petty, vindictive and corrupt organisations such as the GMOA and even the SLMC have become.

It is little wonder then that the medical profession has lost its allure as a noble calling. Today, they have as much scruples as the local hooch manufacturer who is out to make big bucks in as short a time as possible and care about little else.

That the SLMC and the GMOA will now have to eat humble pie and accept the verdict of the highest court in the land comes as a small consolation. Or, who knows, they might still resist- because the GMOA believes it knows everything, it is right in everything it does and it cares little about you, me and the average citizen!

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