Thursday, May 11, 2017

Try again, Mr. President!

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, a member of the majority Sinhalese community, received the support of the Tamil minority after promising accountability for excesses carried out by the largely Sinhalese military. — AFP pic
Ranjan-Padeniya iron out differences


I am disappointed that the President did not re-convene the concerned parties to resolve the SAITM issue. Such an attempt on his part is an imperative in a democracy, particularly, under a threat by many TUs to bring public life to a halt. I earnestly hope the President is not waiting to solve the problem by neglect in the JR style or use force to suppress it. Both such methods have proved to be failures in the past.

It is presumptuous to presume that all aspects of the issue had been solved conclusively at the first attempt. There can be some overlooked loopholes that are waiting for resolution. One such problem that I can think of is the fear of disparity that might exist under a dual system. As I pointed out in one of my early submissions, Government doctors might be apprehensive of higher pay and perks in the private medical schools as they multiply, as a means of attracting talent in the public sector. A decision to equalize pay and perks in both sectors may help to bring the dissenting parties together.

Another problem that looms large in the debate is that of the qualified have-nots that fail to secure places in a state medical college, while the haves buy places over them in private medical schools. Even though I was one of the first to win a scholarship under the Kannangara Free Education Scheme, later I had to earn my fees for my higher education that led me to the Ceylon Civil Service. If I started quarrelling that free education was insufficient to do my higher studies, I would not have achieved my target. It is silly to make free education a political demand and make it exclusive in an open economy. We have come a long way from the Kannangara days and the additions the FES has made to the upper middle class, can afford to pay for their education and it is silly to debar them from buying higher education for their children. When private education is freely available in other sectors like Accountancy, Management and Engineering, why restrict it only in the Medical?

There are other ways in which the State can help qualified poor students who have just missed Medical College. As I suggested in an earlier piece, one such way would be to stipulate that for each paying student taken in by a private medical college, they should give a free place to a student in the waiting list. If that is not practicable, we might use the banks to finance needy students to underwrite their studies under a scheme similar to the HELP of Australia.

All these provisions can make the SAITM problem disappear faster than by neglect and despotic action, which may lead to collapse of the regime in the long run. I pray that the President be pleased to talk to the warring parties one more time with a view to tying up the loose ends. In the meantime, it is hoped that the Unions would not use their power to dislodge the even flow of public life, causing misery to the man in the street.

Somapala Gunadheera