The Sunday Leader

Shocking Move By CMC

By Nirmala Kannangara

Colombo Municipal Council’s (CMC) shocking decision to outsource the laboratory service to conduct specialised analysis on water and food tests and on food handlers that was earlier carried out by the CMC laboratory to a private laboratory owned by a family member of a senior UPFA politician has deprived an  income to the council, it is learnt.

Although the CMC microbiological laboratory is 103 years old, it is still a fully- fledged laboratory that could conduct specialised analysis on water and food and also on all food handlers in the metropolis. This laboratory also controlled communicable diseases and outbreaks right through out. Despite the CMC Microbiological Laboratory’s capability in conducting specialised analysis, without giving any valid reasons the CMC, has instructed the PHIs to divert all laboratory tests to this private laboratory in Bambalapitiya and has requested all city hoteliers to follow suite- to pay this private laboratory and get their tests done from last year.

“We were happy as it was a government department that carried out all these investigations for a nominal fee and gave us the certifications which is a must to get our hotel licenses. But from last year the CMC instructed us to get these tests done from a private laboratory owned by a family of a former senior UPFA politician in the Western Provincial Council to which we are not ready to comply with. However we need the certification to get the hotel licenses, we had to get these tests done at this laboratory at a higher rate,” a leading city hotelier told The Sunday Leader.

Meanwhile a senior Municipal Council member who wished to remain anonymous said that the Municipal Council cannot depend on a private laboratory to give the same service they offered over the years and claimed that it is dangerous as it is the CMC that has to take the responsibility for food hygiene in the city.

“Over the years, the CMC was able to control the food hygiene but a private laboratory was never able to compete with the City Micro Biological Laboratory which carried out their tests much efficiently and accurately. It was in 1974 this laboratory first started checking the food and water samples from hotels in Colombo and the urine, stool and blood samples of employees and other individuals in order to identify the causes of food poisoning outbreaks in Colombo. The then Chief Medical Officer of Health CMC, in 1982 obtained approval of the Council to charge the hotels for this work and to pay the staff 50% out of that income,” the sources said.

He further said that the investigations were carried out after working hours but the samples were obtained in the morning. “Out of the 50% paid to the staff, half of it was paid to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health in charge of the Laboratory. It was in May 2005, the present Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health (DCMOH) Laboratory Services, Dr.  Anna Kariyawasam was appointed to the post and she later decided to carry out these tests without disturbing the normal work and the investigations after working hours. Under the provisions of Section IX 2.2 para 4 & 5 of the Establishment Code, if the work is done without disturbing the normal work but possibly within office hours a higher percentage should be paid to the Govt.  To facilitate that, the percentage paid to the staff was reduced from 50% to 35% and this proposal was approved by the Council and the Governor Western Province,” he added.

It was on this backdrop according to the sources, the son of the said senior UPFA politician made a request to the CMC to out source the laboratory investigations in order to help out his family laboratory where they can carry out the hotel tests for a higher price.

“Without issuing written instructions the CMC immediately got the PHIs to divert the samples and the hotel workers to this private laboratory in Bambalapitiya. It is alleged that this approval has been given to the CMC by the Colombo Mayor considering his friendship with the said Senior UPFA politician. It is alleged that for each hotel worker the PHIs sent, they were paid an incentive of Rs 200 and the Medical Officer of Health CMC who provides his service to this private laboratory receives Rs.500 from each hotel worker and the hotels had to bare the extra incentive c          ost. It is also alleged that some PHIs carry out these examination in their offices and charge Rs 750-2000 per worker during working hours,” sources alleged.

As a result the CMC has lost its revenue in millions of rupees, the sources claimed. Meanwhile, the CMC has asked to reduce the number of investigations that was earlier carried out on food handlers such as full blood count, Standard Agglutination Test on Typhoid, stool culture, Nasal swab, urine full report and was carrying out tests only on Hepatitis, VDRL and Palm swab. “At present no food samples are checked and there is no way of knowing the Food hygiene standards in the city. The food poisoning episodes at two leading hotels in Colombo were not investigated. The hotels are bared from submitting workers and food samples to the CMC lab by the MOH of the area stating that the CMOH has given orders. Meanwhile Hilton and Galadari hotels paid money to the CMC to get the investigations done. As the Municipal member  Mahendra Silva got the Mayor’s verbal approval to get this work done as money has already paid the microbiological laboratory  staff to carry out the work with regard to Hilton Hotel,” sources added.

Meanwhile the Chief Medical Officer issued an ultimatum to the MLTs reprimanding that they will have to face interdiction if they carry out DCMOH orders on hotel investigations.

“It was at this time the Mayor informs the DCMOH that these investigations have to be outsourced due to high costs.  The DCMOH meanwhile wrote to the Mayor requesting to return the money to the two hotels if permission cannot be granted to her to carry out the invesyigations. As the CMC did not pay back the money to the two hotels, DCMOH decided to collect samples from the hotel alone by herself. As a result the Chief Medical Officer sent the internal auditors while she was carrying out the tests on March 13, 2015 and she was immediately interdicted. However the DCMOH filed a case (114/ 2015) in the Court of Appeal to get a Stay Order and the court issued an injunction order and she was reinstated with immediate effect,” sources claimed.

Refuting allegations, Chief Medical Officer of Health CMC, Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni  said that he the CMC has never outsourced the services carried out by the council Microbiological Laboratory and added that according to the Municipal Council Ordinance the area Medical Officer of Health has to inspect food handlers and issue certificates but food and water analysis is not mandatory.

“It was only in 2007 all the irregularities started when the Chief Medical Officer proposed private food and water samples to be taken and tested. Nowhere in the Food Act that states blood and stool samples has to be taken for tests and no one can say that these tests should be done only at the CMC laboratory. In the past the CMC has conducted HIV tests on food handlers. The lab staff is reluctant to carry out food and blood samples now as their payments have been stopped for the past two years,” Dr. Wijayamuni said.

When asked whether he gave instructions to out sources these investigations, Dr. Wijayamuni said that he is not aware of such a decision. “To my knowledge I don’t know about that. I don’t know whether these services have been outsourced. Anyhow the CMC has not got the capacity to conduct these tests and more over we have not got the required number of MLTs to carry out these investigations. We conduct some of the investigations on a subsidised price which is a loss to the council,” Dr. Wijayamuni added.

Meanwhile Manager First International Medical Clinic Mr. Rishan when contacted to find out whether their laboratory has got the contract from the CMC to carry out these investigations, Rishan said that it was First Medical Clinic Center in Bambalapitiya that obtained the contract from the CMC.

“I was the Sales Executive of the First Medical Clinic Center in Bambalapitiya and it was Rifan Moulana and Haquib Moulana that got the contract from the CMC. Although it was good deal, we were not able to carry out the work as an issue erupted at the CMC for giving the contract to a private laboratory depriving the CMC its revenue. After the issue came up, Dr. Wijayamuni had to cancel the contract which was a loss to our company. As a result the First Medical Clinic Center had to sell the laboratory to another party and the new company was registered as First International Medical Clinic where I now work as its Manager. We carry out tests on those who go abroad through the Foreign Employment Bureau. However we are working to get back the CMC contract as it is a money spinner,” Rishan said.

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