The Sunday Leader


  •  Some leading lights of the medical profession did not agree with the acolytes but they saw the benefits of limiting numbers in the profession
  • Are the SLMC, the GMOA and the agitating rabble that go along with them vested with constitutional powers equivalent to that of the judiciary?
  • ‘A demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots’

by Gamini Weerakoon

SAITMITIS, a new disease spreading fast in Sri Lanka and is threatening to paralyse the country.

The vector of this deadly disease is the medical profession but the causative organism according to some analyses is a red virus propagated by some failed prophets far away, a century ago, which aged Sri Lankan acolytes are still preaching. The woes of humanity are caused by private ownership and salvation is state control and state ownership of everything, the failed prophets held.

Some leading lights of the medical profession did not agree with the acolytes but they saw the benefits of limiting numbers in the profession. There was safety in lesser numbers – the principle of supply and demand applied. Besides the doctors who considered themselves the salt of the earth, the most intelligent and the greatest in this resplendent isle and were privileged to have their own way were susceptible to this virus. They considered themselves Brahmins while other humans were lesser beings and their hard won status had to be defended.


A protest against SAITM

Brahmins and acolytes

The Brahmins and acolytes united for their common objective. Privatization of medical education had to be stopped, SAITM had to be destroyed. SAITM thus became politics.

On August 30, 2011, during the golden days of suppression and chaos under the Rajapaksa regime, a rare and sensible decision was made. The University Grants Commission [UGC], the sole authority to grant permission for institutions to award degrees, accepted the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine [SAITM] as an institution that could award medical degrees. The Sri Lanka Medical Council that grants permission to those practicing medicine refused permission to students of SAITM on the grounds of clinical training facilities which was remedied soon after. But the SLMC was unmoved.

There are some outstanding battle scarred veterans of ‘anti-medical education privatization’ brigade dating back to the battle of North Colombo Medical College and are still performing rear-guard action in the Medical Council, holding out against SAITM. However their passion for fighting against privatization varies in accordance with change of governments. SAITM considered a blessing during the Rajapaksa era became a dangerous threat during the Yahapalanaya time. This is in accordance with the Darwinian theory of survival – survival in politics like in nature, too depends on adaptation to the political environment.


Legal approval

After a near six years of academic, bureaucratic, political and legal wrangling, the Court of Appeal following an appeal by a student who had graduated from SAITM but being refused registration by the SLMC, last week held that the SLMC had gone beyond its mandate and exercised excessive powers in rejecting the application of the graduate of SAITM for registration. The court said that the student had a legal right to provisionally register under the Medical Ordinance.

Provisional registration means that after one year of internship under a specialist he or she would be entitled to be registered as a medical practitioner.

The Court of Appeal, the second highest court in the land, has given this ruling but the medical pundits won’t have it. They are certainly entitled to appeal against the judgment to the Supreme Court but seem to be planning to go ahead with street terrorism probably to intimidate the judiciary and government.

Are the SLMC, the GMOA [trade union of doctors) and the agitating rabble that go along with them vested with constitutional powers equivalent to that of the judiciary to challenge the decision of the Court of Appeal on the streets?

The public witnessed on TV of things to come when a howling mob of anti-SAITM demonstrators on their way to storm the Presidential Secretariat broke through barricades. Only water cannon and tear gas halted this frenzied mob supposedly marching for improvement of teaching of medical techniques! Howling, screaming, supposedly medical students in white overcoats used as raincoats accompanied by characters who looked more like street thugs and some clad in saffron robes of monks [Are there Buddhist monks enrolled as medical students?] presented a frightening spectacle. The front page picture of a monk high up in the air with his ballooning robes appeared to be using transcendental power [Ehrrdi powers of Arahats?] or using techniques of special armed services personnel.

There was much public lamentation at ‘police brutality’ used against this mob. Probably these innocent demonstrators should have been permitted to enter the Presidential Secretariat and ransack it for the purpose of furthering medical education!



GMOA hot heads are meeting political parties, civil societies, students’ organisations, university teachers, trade unions et al to consider ‘all possible action’ to protest the judgment of the Court of Appeal. Are Sri Lankan citizens to be treated with hospital strikes, power cuts, strikes in essential services for the court ruling against this ‘noble and exalted’ profession?

The ultimate objective was laid bare when the defeated president Mahinda Rajapaksa, lusting and longing for power that he lost, broke his silence on SAITM. He declared on Independence Day: There needs to be a standard. The law cannot interfere. If it happens everyone in the country will try to become doctors.

What he meant was not precisely clear as it often happens when politicians hold back what they want to say but there is no doubt that he has come out openly against the court decision of granting recognition to SAITM.

This however is in marked contrast to what he said when he visited SAITM on March 28, 2013. A TV channel which recorded the event, last week played back the scene of the smiling ex-president being accorded a warm welcome when he presented ten students with scholarships each worth Rs. 1 million that would enable them to go through their medical degree. The film shows students going down on their knees and worshipping Mahinda Rajapaksa who was disbursing state funds! These were students who had scored 3 As at the AL examination but failed to reach the required marks by a hundredth of a decimal point or so. Rajapaksa had appealed to Dr. Neville Fernando, the proprietor/Director of SAITM, on behalf of one of those students who was from Hambantota.

Dr. Neville Fernando, a former MP for Panadura who had devoted millions of rupees to establish this institute for students [who have failed to qualify for entry to state universities by an infinitesimal amount] must indeed be very bitter with this forked-tongued politics.

Meanwhile, the learned Professor G. L. Peiris who has taken up the job of Goda Perkadoruwa [Unofficial Proctor] for his boss Mahinda Rajapaksa is providing light entertainment in these tense times.

At a press conference on Tuesday, trying to cover up his boss’s gaffe on SAITM – having presented scholarships worth Rs. 10 million to SAITM and then condemning it – has put his professorial foot in his mouth. He has held: Awarding a scholarship to study a degree course was different from recognizing the degree as an authenticated profession.

True, oh true, learned professor. But what is the poor student who went through six years of medical studies to do on graduation? Hang the degree certificate on the wall and keep admiring it without the right to practice his profession?

Perhaps the professor finds himself in a similar situation. He is a Rhodes Scholar, double PhD – from Oxford and Colombo, fellowships from various academic institutions too numerous to record. But he is not a practicing lawyer. Whether he is registered or not, we do not know. Prof. Peiris is quite satisfied with his status but unfortunately to poor medical students with scholarships of Rajapaksa and no right to practice their profession is not in the happy state of the professor! We end this essay with a quotation that we have often used on demagoguery by H. L. Menecken, an American journalist and satirist: A demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

1 Comment for “Beware Of SAITMITIS”

  1. Yana

    Well said. I couldn’t have said it any better. Let’s see if the President caves into the demands of the GMOA extortionists as he has done in the past! It is so commendable of the GMOA to be overly concerned about the welfare of the sick, injured and dying public! Hippocratic Oath people, HIPPOCRATIC Oath, not hypocritic oath

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