Ex-judge Viknarajah invited to tackle bribery
By Harinda Vidanage
Former Appeal Court Judge and one-time head of the Public Service Commission and Western Province Governor K. Viknarajah is to be invited by the Constitutional Council to fill the long-standing vacancy in the Permanent Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption (PCIBC). The Constitutional Council on Thursday decided to invite Mr. Viknarajah to serve as a member of the Commission.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed his name which was seconded by Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse and two other members of the supreme council that select members for the several independent commissions.

A much respected figure in legal circles, Mr Viknarajah, despite an invitation to serve, will now need to go through an elaborate selection process which includes a marking system that has been strongly criticised on the footing that it demeans applicants subjecting them to unnecessary scrutiny.

In the application form, would-be appointees are asked for detailed information about their wife's precious stones (cut or uncut), a child's debentures, and whether the applicant or his wife or children own power driven vehicles such as motor boats!
The marking system requires that the applicant score a minimum of 45-points to qualify for selection.

The Bribery and Corruption Commission has been inoperational since February this year when one of the three Commissioner's, T.N. Abeyawira, died. The law requires that the vacancy be filled by either a retired Supreme Court or Appeal Court judge, and that the Commission cannot function unless three Commissioners sit.

The Attorney General has ruled that no new bribery and corruption investigations can be started nor fresh indictments made until all three commissioners sit together.
An attempt by retired Court of Appeal President Upali de Z Gunawardene to get himself nominated to the Commission in April fell through after as many as thirty public petitions against him over his suitability for the post were upheld by the Constitutional Council.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Council at its meeting on Thursday decided to recommend A.S. Gunawardena to the President for appointment to the Finance Commission since C.P. de Silva who was recommended earlier has declined to serve in the said commission on a full-time basis.

Meanwhile, Priyanee Wijesekera has been appointed as the Secretary-General of Parliament. The Constitutional Council approved her appointment on Thursday. Ms.Wijesekera who joined Parliament as a Research Officer in June 1992 was appointed Assistant Secretary General later that year and continued to hold the post till her confirmation as Secretary General. Ms.Wijesekera is the first woman to hold the prestigious post.

GMOA cites broken promises for looming strike
By Faraza Farook
Broken promises and delayed implementation of decisions in resolving issues concerning doctors has pushed the Government Medical Officers Association to go on an indefinite islandwide strike on Tuesday, the trade union body charged.

The GMOA has given an ultimatum to the Health Ministry till tomorrow (Monday) before its members in all Teaching and General hospitals take to trade union action on Tuesday in protest at a delay in rectifying a salary anomaly that the union has been requesting for several years. The matter has come to a head now with the recent salary increase granted to nurses, Assistant and Registered Medical Officers and other medical staff.

GMOA Interim Committee spokesman Dr. Dimuth Silva said when the matter was taken up recently this year, the Health Ministry had accepted their grievance and agreed to rectify the salary anomaly by way of a Cabinet Paper. However, Cabinet approval has still not been sought, he alleged.

At a meeting on April 8, Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Reggie Perera had assured he would get Cabinet approval within four weeks. Later, in a written assurance dated May 7, Dr. Perera had stated that the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to look into the salary anomaly had assured the proposal would be placed before the 'very next Cabinet meeting'.

"A month after this assurance, we still haven't seen any progress on the matter," Dr. Silva charged. Although the long holidays during Vesak and the recent floods may have delayed the process, the GMOA felt there was no reason to further postpone the issue.

Dr. Silva claimed that the Assistant and Registered Medical Officers have been put on a higher salary scale than the MBBS doctors. This, he alleged, affected administrative functions too as such responsibilities are based on the salary received.
The GMOA is also protesting against the stoppage of a mission allowance paid to doctors working in the North and East. Although a ceasefire is in place, Dr. Silva said, the doctors working in these areas were still exposed to hardships. Nearly 900 doctors are in service in the North and East.

Health Minister P. Dayaratne said the Cabinet was awaiting a report from the Treasury on the proposal forwarded by the Sub-Committee to rectify the salary anomaly. "We're with the doctors," he said adding, "we are not delaying anything, but simply following procedures."

Minister Dayaratne said the anomaly had been created 10 years ago. However, the issue had been carefully studied by a Cabinet Sub-Committee which put forward a proposal agreeable to doctors. The Treasury is presently studying the proposal and is expected to submit a report by this week. "It's being negotiated," he assured.

The request to continue payment of a mission allowance to doctors serving in the North and East was unfair, he said. "Today there are people going to the North and East for holidays. So what is the risk for doctors?" he queried. Arrears, if any, would be paid, but demanding a mission allowance when the prevailing situation is peaceful is unfair, he added.

Scheme to widen docs' horizons
Doctors, patients and hospitals, particularly those in peripheral units are to benefit from a revalidation programme intended to encourage doctors to keep updated about developments in the medical world, the Sri Lanka Medical Association announced.

Revalidation is a voluntary scheme which is to come into effect from 2005, where there will be periodical renewal of the licence of doctors to practise, provided there is sufficient evidence of good medical practice. Under this system doctors are expected to participate in seminars, symposiums and other meetings that open up discussions on the latest developments in the medical field while also keeping up with advances featured in medical journals and literature.

The doctors will gain points with their attendance at seminars, which would be taken into consideration in the final assessment that will determine their eligibility for renewal of their licence.

"This mechanism would ensure that doctors are abreast of the latest medical practices thereby benefiting the patients who would receive the best treatment," President of the Government Medical Officers Association Dr. Kumar Weerasekera said.

By attending programmes intended to educate doctors on the latest developments, they will be able to treat patients at grassroots level instead of having to transfer patients to an upgraded hospital.

The implementation of the new system is also expected to improve the quality of services at peripheral hospitals, which will have to be upgraded to enable the doctors to put into practice their newly acquired knowledge. This mechanism could act as a deterrent to quacks who number some 20,000 according to unofficial statistics, Vice President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council Dr. Ananda Samarasekera said.

"Getting a medical degree alone doesn't give the licence to practise," Dr. Samarasekera said adding, "unless you keep track of the latest developments, you will not be an up-to-date doctor".

Moreover, revalidation will put Sri Lanka on par with the other countries where the scheme is already in practice. "When making applications to practise in foreign countries, doctors are asked for their last revalidation date and not the date they passed out of medical college," Dr. Weerasekera said.

'Continuing Medical Development' (CMD) is practised all over the world. However, there has been no legal requirement in Sri Lanka to date to do this in order to keep one's licence valid. While some countries have a system where doctors have to pass examinations and face interviews if they are to be eligible for revalidation, the process to be implemented in Sri Lanka will be much more lenient.

SLMA President Dr. Sunil Seneviratne Epa assured that doctors need not panic that their licences would be cancelled as they have seven years before the first revalidation of licences was done. Accordingly, doctors are expected to gather CMD points starting from 2005 to be eligible for revalidation in 2010.

Medical education programmes will be held in all hospitals including peripheral units, while libraries will also be updated. The Health Ministry has promised to fund the proposal put forward by the SLMA and approved by the SLMC.

Top Govt. posts from management pool?
By Nilika Kasturisinghe
The Public Services Commission has proposed that a senior management pool be created comprising suitable persons thereby simplifying the task of appointing Ministry Secretaries and Departmental Heads, which are posts not filled by the PSC.
"The Cabinet could choose and the PSC could help in choosing a senior management pool," Prime Minister's Secretary and Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission Bradman Weerakoon said on Thursday.

Mr. Weerakoon was delivering the keynote address at a public seminar held to discuss the 'Role of the Public Service Commission', the first in a series to be held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.

The idea of such a pool which had originally been made in the Shelton Wanasinghe report had not been implemented, he said. "This is a creative and valuable step in trying to get the best person for the job," he said, explaining that Class 1 officers in the all island services may all have a chance. Otherwise it just depends on who are the favourites of the government, he said.

"When the Cabinet became the vehicle by which public servants were appointed things changed radically. The public service was captured by politicians and became an instrument of its will," he said.

Drawing attention to the fact that Sri Lanka has the largest proportion of public servants to people in the whole of Asia, Mr. Weerakoon said, "The public service is heavily overstaffed, due to intervention by authorities. There are 770,000 public servants, the ratio being 3.6 public servants per 100 population. Therefore the need for reform."

The Public Service must ensure that entrants to the service are selected on merit, not on 'relative' merits and they must not be penalized for doing the right thing in terms of policy, the law and equity, he said.

PSC Chairman R.C.A. Vandergert said the seminar was the first in a series of seminars to inform the public what the PSC can achieve under the mandate given by Article 17. The Public Services Commission first came into existence in 1946.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution which came into force on October 3, 2001, amended the position of the PSC by making it an 'independent' body responsible and answerable only to Parliament. Established on December 2, 2002, the PSC has nine other members - D.M.P.B. Dasanayake, Prof. J.N.O. Fernando, Mrs. Jezima Ismail, Mrs. N. Mohottala, Prof. Ryhana Raheem, Prof. M. Rohanadeera, Dr. T. Somasekeram and Dr. A.C. Visvalingam.

The chairman and members are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council and hold office for a term of three years and may be eligible for re-appointment for one further term. The Commission is empowered to delegate its functions either to three-member committees, which it may set up, or to individual public officers.

However, matters relating to staff grade officers will continue to remain under the direct purview of the Commission, and will not be delegated. Meanwhile, another panelist at the seminar, Mr. M.C.M. Iqbal of the Human Rights Commission said, "It is meaningless talking of the public service of the country if we do not change the Provincial Public Service too."

He said there was the need to change the law to bring the provincial councils under the law of the 17th Amendment with Divisional Secretaries and AGAs having to perform functions pertaining to the provincial councils and the central government.

N-E polls: All set but delay seems likely
By Shelani Perera
The Elections Department has finalized preparations to hold elections in the North and the East on June 25 despite the Government moving to bring in amendments to postpone the polls.

The bill was presented to Parliament last month, but was put off. However the bill has to be passed before June 25. The Sunday Times learns that the bill is expected to be presented when Parliament sits next on June 17. The Government is likely to postpone the elections with the decision to call for fresh nominations.

Deputy Elections Commissioner M.C. Arunthavachelvam told The Sunday Times that 80% of the work had been completed. "The ballot papers have been printed and polling cards have been delivered. We have only to set up polling booths and deploy the staff, and do the counting after the polling" said Mr. Arunthavachelvam.

He added that the Department had to proceed with the preparations despite the Government making it clear that amendments will be presented in Parliament postponing the polls.

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