I would be true to the Act of Parliament- Prof Colvin Guneratne, President, SLMC | Sunday Observer

I would be true to the Act of Parliament- Prof Colvin Guneratne, President, SLMC

Professor Colvin Guneratne assumed office as President, Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) on the second of this month. With the aim of restoring public respect towards the SLMC, Prof Guneratne intends to work true to his position.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer he explained how he plans to manoeuvre his duties with paradoxical demands and his views on the subject matter at large.

Excerpts:

Q. What are your plans for the SLMC during your tenure?

A.The functions of the Medical Council are all given in the Act. What I plan is to be true to the Act of Parliament, which sets out all the functions, powers and duties of the SLMC. I am sure the members of the SLMC would cooperate with me to carry out my duties.

I will be faithful to the functions and duties recorded in the Act, and will not go beyond that. I will not clench my fists and grind my teeth and say ‘over my dead body’ or things like that, which happened recently. Dead bodies are of no use to anybody. So I won’t be performing that kind of drama. I will be independent in carrying out my functions of the SLMC, and not be part of any political party, political or revolutionary movement. I regard the SLMC as a high institution, and so it has to safeguard its position. I believe, during the last few years the corporate image of the SLMC has lowered in the eyes of the public. And by the public I do not mean the GMOA or medical students, I mean the general public, the suffering public of the country. So, I want to try, with the help and advice of my colleagues in the Council, to raise the corporate image to what it was, ten, fifteen years ago. I am old enough to know what a lot of respect people in this country had for the SLMC. So that is what I promise to do. I just want to function as a good President of the SLMC.

Q. What made you take up this position knowing its contentious nature?

A. There is no such nature in this position. The problem is if you don’t follow the Act and if you don’t perform the duties and functions laid down, then of course you would have lots of problems. But if you follow the Act and do what you are empowered to do, with the consultation and the consensus of those in the Council, I’m sure they would support me.

Q. What are your views on SAITM, private medical education and minimum standards?

A. SAITM is an institution started by the Government of Sri Lanka, during the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He gave a substantial grant, as a loan or grant to the fledgling institution so that they could improve it. I think it was in the region of 3 or 4 million rupees.

Mahinda Rajapaksa realised there were some students who would have easily got into the medical faculties according to their z scores, but couldn’t do so because they were ruled out by the district quota. He gave scholarships to some of these students, to follow their studies at SAITM. What I’m trying to show is, it was a decision of the government of the country, not Colvin Guneratne’s or anybody else’s. Thereafter, after some discussions with the SLMC they decided to join up with the Ministry of Higher Education and pursue the MBBS degree under the guardianship of the Higher Education Ministry. Some of the enrolled students have now got the MBBS from that institution. Now that should answer your question, of my view. SAITM is a government sponsored organization.

So the government has to decide what to do with it. Not me. Further to that about ten days ago there was a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office chaired by Minister Dr.Harsha de Silva, attended by SLMC members including myself. The others were, the Health Ministry and Higher Education Ministry Secretaries, a representative from the Attorney General’s Department and the Chairman of the University Grants Commission. Dr.Harsha de Silva told us that he has been empowered by the President and the Prime Minister to find an equitable solution to the SAITM issue. We studied the agenda, and one of the item was that the minimum standards would be finalised and gazetted.

Now there is some agreement on the minimum standards, although there are some problems to be sorted out. The Minister of Health along with some members of the SLMC has gone through a list and the minimum standards, which I believe, will be presented to Parliament in a week or two. Once gazetted it would apply to all MBBS or similar degrees given by any institution in Sri Lanka.

Q. There have been some claims by certain groups and/or individuals that you are pro SAITM. How do you think you have earned this reputation?

A. You have to ask them.

Why ask me? If somebody calls me a Lothario or a cupid and I have nothing to do with it, and you ask me why? You must ask the people who are saying that. Surely, I can tell you this. I have never been an advocate for SAITM. During various discussions I have pointed out things which pertain to the entire problem regarding SAITM. This is interpreted by people who are foolish, people who pretend to be foolish or behave like fools in public as being pro SAITM.

For example the President has had several meetings at his residence regarding SAITM. He invited me for all those meetings because I am the Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka, and as someone with 40 years experience as a medical teacher. I pointed out, some of the claims made by certain parties arguing endlessly till the cows come home, that we have to obey the Constitution of Sri Lanka and that the Constitution is reflected by the opinion of the Supreme Court. If you violate the Supreme Court decision, then there are decisions the Supreme Court can take,I pointed out. Now, this is regarded as being pro SAITM. This is just one example. I am pro fairness, pro justice, that I am one hundred percent.

Q. What, in your opinion is the solution to end this crisis?

A. I have already told you that the Prime Minister and the President are working on it. We are awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court regarding this very matter, because the Appeal Court has given a decision to register MBBS graduates from SAITM. And the SLMC has appealed to the Supreme Court. Hence, we are waiting for the SC decision. So, my opinion doesn’t matter at all.

Q. Do you plan to maintain a good working relationship with the GMOA? How do you plan to tackle this?

A. I am not supposed to tackle any trade union but to do my duty. That is my answer.

Q. But in order to move forward isn’t it necessary for you to have a good working relationship with them?

A. If there is a bad relationship it is not my fault.

Q. What are your views on strikes carried out by doctors? Do you think it’s ethical?

A. I am not referring to any trade union. This is a question you needn’t ask. Do you suppose doctors are there to give treatment to people who are ill and dying? Then I agree that the strikes carried out are not proper.

Q. Lectures and exams are at a standstill, students who have obtained the MBBS through foreign universities are also suffering, unable to sit the Act 16 or the ERPM that enables them to register as a doctor locally. What do you plan to do about this?

A. The SLMC has devised a mechanism to give registration to medical graduates qualified from foreign medical schools which has been previously approved by the SLMC, and that is called the ERPM (Examination for Registration to Practise Medicine). We have appointed a senior professor, an expert in medical education as well as the examination systems, Dr.Harshalal to oversee that. I would like to discuss this matter with my colleagues as to how we should proceed on the matter of the ERPM.

I don’t think we have any objections or logistic problems in having the ERPM for foreign medical students who have graduated from approved medical schools in foreign countries. But, people can place various road blocks in the system.

For example, some specialists say they have been advised by someone or some organisation/body, not to participate in this examination, then what are we to do? This is just one example of the nature of roadblocks that we may face. There are many more which are intentionally put in place in which case, the SLMC is not a policing body.We are not in a position to implement if these roadblocks are placed by various people for reasons best known to themselves. However, if we are allowed to do it in the manner the SLMC would like to do it, then of course I am pro ERPM, then I promise I will try to do my best to see that the ERMP is held. But of course the members must agree with me and various interested parties should not place roadblocks which we are unable to reverse. 

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