SAITM graduates still high and dry despite CA, SC judgments | Sunday Observer

SAITM graduates still high and dry despite CA, SC judgments

A protest by SAITM students (File Photo)
A protest by SAITM students (File Photo)

In June 2016, Malshani Suriyarachchi - an MBBS qualified doctor, - filed a case in the Court of Appeal (CoA) demanding provisional registration with the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) in the wake of the latter’s refusal of her application, after she completed her medical studies and residency at the South Asian Institute of Technology and Science (SAITM).

After carefully considering her demand, the CoA on January 31, 2017, gave a historic verdict and issued a writ of certiorari, ordering the SLMC to register her.

Despite back to back rulings of the judiciary in favour of SAITM graduates, 85 MBBS holders are still whiling away their time, as the SLMC has yet to comply with the court orders. The 24 member council is dominated by members of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), a powerful doctors’ trade union that has driven a vicious campaign against SAITM, which resulted in its closure, by the Government, in 2018.

In March 2017, the SLMC appealed to the Supreme Court (SC) against the CoA decision.

The SC case dragged on for nearly 18 months but the judges of the apex court eventually upheld the CoA decision. The judgment was delivered by Justice Prasanna Jayawardena with Justice Eva Wanasundera and Justice Nalin Perera agreeing.

However soon after the SC verdict, the Medical Council requested Suriyarachchi to resubmit her application in order to proceed with registration procedures. Her lawyers refused to comply.

“That was requested at a point, but this request was rejected by the petitioner’s lawyers. However, just because the application is submitted we cannot guarantee registration. We have to see if the necessary papers are in order.

Our request was rejected by her lawyers on the basis that we did not‘guarantee’ registering the student” the current President of Sri Lanka Medical Council, Prof. Harendra De Silva told the Sunday Observer.

Refusing to re-submit the application, Malshani Suriyarachchi’s attorneys filed a contempt of Court case in the Supreme Court against the SLMC. The case was filed on October 4, 2018 and is still ongoing.

“For seven months, this case was not taken up. During the political crisis late last year, the judiciary had different priorities, we understand. But after that, about four or five times at least one of the judges on the bench stepped down on the basis of personal issues. So our case has kept dragging on” a SAITM graduate told the Sunday Observer on the basis of anonymity.

In the meantime, a Parliament act named, the ‘General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (Special Provisions) Act No 17 of 2018’ was issued, a step taken to resolve the SAITM issue. The act suggested absorbing SAITM students to the Medical Faculty of General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) but did not offer any relief to the students who had already graduated from the private medical campus.

By the time the Act had been taken up, Malshani Suriyarachchi had filed her petition in the CA and the SLMC had made its appeal to the SC. “It was somewhat hypocritical to see how SLMC registered KDU with them after a very short inspection while recommending them ,saying “Excellent training” as a medical faculty which did not even have a hospital to provide clinical training for its students. In fact, the Supreme Court considered this dodgy behaviour of SLMC too, when they upheld the decision of the court of appeal,” a parent of a SAITM graduate told the Sunday Observer.

He said, “We are not illegal immigrants. We are citizens of this country. We cannot allow the President or any other minister to bow to the dictates of some trade union, ruin the careers of our children and violate this country’s laws”. On August 9, 2009, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in office, SAITM was grantedDegree Awarding Status under the University Act 16 of 1978, following the written instructions of then President of SLMC Prof. Lalitha Mendis. At the time, the GMOA did not strongly oppose the private medical faculty. The strongest opposition to SAITM when it was established came from within the JVP and its powerful student unions.

But when SAITM’s first batch students applied for Provisional Registration with SLMC under Medical Ordinance Section 29 (2) in 2016 (after their graduation), the SLMC rejected the applications and refused to register the students as doctors.

“My parents spent Rs. 6 million for my medical degree. Now they don’t even want to talk about it. They think that they destroyed our future. But it wasn’t them, it was politics and the Government that failed us” said a SAITM graduate who did not wish to be named.

Some SAITM MBBS graduates are currently engaged in clerical work at Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital in Malabe. They find this humiliating, given their qualifications and desire to practice medicine instead, but must wait until the courts return yet another verdict,