The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) yesterday exposed its former leader and President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the ‘Appachchi’ (father) of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) as well as the Hambantota economic zone though he has since turned a staunch critic of both.
Party senior member and Special Projects Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama claimed that the SLFP initiated both SAITM and the proposed Hambantota economic zone.
Speaking to journalists at the weekly Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) press conference, Dr. Amunugama, flanked by Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, said that along with the proposed Hambantota economic zone, SAITM was among the “best work” of the previous regime which he was a part of.
“Both SAITM and the Hambantota zone exist thanks to the intervention of the former President. These were among his best policy initiatives. It is unfortunate that today he is denying any involvement,” Dr. Amunugama said.
“He is the real ‘Appachchi’ of these,” he added. The recent decision made by the courts on the fate of SAITM graduates must be respected, said Dr. Amunugama, adding that if there was a question of standards it could be discussed and resolved accordingly.
The Rajapaksa Government’s policy of opening more private institutions subject to high standards is approved by the present Government as well, he said. The Minister also recalled the Rs. 600 million loan granted to SAITM by a State bank during the tenure of the former President.
At a press briefing held on Monday, SAITM Chairman Dr. Neville Fernando revealed that in 2013 the institute had granted scholarships to 10 students who had obtained 3A passes and 2A passes at the GCE A/L examinations, on the request of Rajapaksa. When asked under which criteria these students were selected, Dr. Amunugama said that when SAITM and similar institutes were being formed, the Higher Education Ministry had proposed that all private universities should endeavour to reserve a fair number of seats for students from low income families, and suggested that the SAITM enrolment may have been on the same grounds.
Dr. Amunugama made mention of plans made by the previous Government to open three private medical colleges in Sri Lanka, namely the medical faculty at the Kotelawala Defence University (KDU), a branch of the Nepalese Manipal University and a branch of the Lancashire University to be built in Gampaha.
“Students of this country are going abroad at great expense to their parents to study at foreign universities that don’t have one-tenth of the facilities of the universities here. Our private institutes are a 1,000 times better than a lot of places abroad. So is our garment industry. Look at worker standards in countries like Bangladesh compared to ours,” said Dr. Amunugama.
“There are so many colleges for engineers, lawyers, journalists, et al. Why the exception for medicine?” he added.
Referring to statements made elsewhere on the recent verdict by the Court of Appeal directing the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to grant provisional registration to SAITM students, the Minister said:”We believe a court order must be respected at all times; not just when the order is in your favour.”
Dismissing the opposition to the institute as being “illogical,” the Minister said that standards that apply to SAITM should be a universal set of standards that apply equally to all medical colleges, state and non-state alike. The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) too ought to meet its own standards, he added.
“My personal opinion is that the GMOA should also be monitored to see if they meet their own standards. Even MPs and ministers should be subject to this. Standards must not be limited to SAITM,” he said.
GMOA doctors, said Dr. Amungugama, ought to be investigated into whether or not they report to work on time or whether they engage in private practice during work hours. (Daily FT)