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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

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Government Gazette

Hurrah for the GMOA !

The latest request by the GMOA is to permit government medical officers and consultants in government hospitals to see patients in private hospitals before 4 p.m. by permitting them to leave during their office hours, for which they draw a salary.

This is yet another great service to the nation offered by GMOA. It claims that many foreign doctors who work in private hospitals are of sub-standard competence. (In recent months their visas are given only for three months, and there are hardly any foreign applicants when advertised, as the very short term is uneconomical and a source of harassment). GMOA would no doubt ask that the fees during such office hours be paid to the government hospital from which they come. GMOA doctors must be paid car mileage for the actual (not hypothetical) travelling for such visits.

It must be said that very many doctors in government hospitals are very dedicated and give their best services to the patients. The Colombo South Hospital and many base hospitals in the provinces are very much appreciated for the excellent service provided by doctors. The quality would invariably decrease when doctors go out during working hours. This is a sacrifice the poor government hospital patients have to pay for the new service to the nation, which they should gladly consent to.

No doubt the GMOA is the most powerful trade union among the top of the range professionals.

They are paid several allowances – disturbance, telephone, fuel etc which increase their remuneration very high, compared to other government servants with similar academic and practical competence.

They have their feet in both camps – the public sector assured employment plus private practice. Very few if any, opt for either one. They wish to serve the poor and not so poor to the maximum. Over the years it has obtained benefits for members which are for the good of the public. The public in turn has always continued to fund their studies upto and beyond the MBBS including fully paid overseas scholarships.

There were a few mishaps on the way like when the government some years back decided not to guarantee government employment to all doctors who passed out and instead encouraged them to go private. This was later withdrawn and the public were told there really aren't enough doctors in the government service. In the Supplementary estimates approved in July by Parliament, there is nothing for the GMOA members. This is very unfair. Private practice was resorted to again for the GMOA to help the nation. When in the waiting halls of private hospitals for the number to be called, patients cannot help but multiply the number by the fee and think what a service is being done to the nation by three minute consultations.

Some halls had numbers appearing in lighting over each door. This was bad for the patients and it was stopped in most places. Doctors working in government hospitals work so hard and are late for their appointments in private hospitals, though may be some are visiting several private hospitals on their way to the last.

Delays cannot be due to vehicle breakdown. Doctors get duty free concessions to import new vehicles every five years.


Setting up Children and Women’s Unit

I was delighted to read the press announcement of the Child Development and Women's Affairs Ministry in the Daily News of September 20, 2012 that the Ministry proposes to set up 335 Children and Women's Units at Divisional Secretariat level to combat child abuse and harassment of women and the establishment of a National Committee on Women with the responsibility for initiating policy decisions, drafting laws and regulations and lifting the position of women. Besides, the decision of the Child Protection Authority to seek the assistance of eminent personnel in various institutions involved in these areas by adopting a multi-sectoral approach is indeed praiseworthy.

I have been writing regularly to the national newspapers including the Daily News pointing out the urgent need to establish institutions such as these, to fight against child abuse as the government has already done what it could do to provide for the welfare of children and their families and to lift the living standards of the villagers in remote areas. The government cannot alone handle this highly complex problem of child abuse and crime against women in the country. I am confident that with the innovations the Ministry has introduced or proposed to do, it may be possible to reduce the incidence of child abuse cases, in particular.

The decision to hold the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, 2012, and thereafter each year, to make parents aware of child abuse caused by sexual exploitation, enforced labour, neglect and punishment in various forms of punishment and torture and the steps already taken and proposed to do by the government, will be an added booster.


Displaced civilians and the Menik Farm

The Menik Farm is now closed. That ends the chapter of the displaced Tamil civilians of the North. The government has re-settled the thousands of people who were on the farm as war refugees, in their own homesteads. This milestone event is proof that the conflict situation is over and that peace prevails once again in the country. It is also evidence of the commitment of the government to resettle the Tamil civilians who were displaced by the civil war.

At one time the Menik Farm was the largest camp for those displaced due to LTTE terrorist activities in the North. The camp was set-up in May 2009 to shelter the Tamil civilians who fled LTTE terror. They had been in the clutches of the LTTE for years without means of escape. Finally they took the brave decision and 250,000 people waded across the Nandikadal Lagoon into government territory. The military launched an immediate humanitarian operation on the orders of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to assist these refugees.

For almost three and a half years, the government provided these displaced people with shelter, food, clothing, health-care, water and sanitation, and even education facilities for the children.

The delay in solving the re-settlement issue was due to the deming process, which had to be completed. The LTTE had buried thousands of land mines in the area and they had to be first cleared. It definitely was not that the government was lethargic or purposely delaying the matter.

Just one thing remains to be done now. Some families from the Kapailavu area in the Mullaitivu District cannot return to their original homelands, as a military camp has been established there. For security reasons, it is essential that the camp be there.

These people are being located in state land in proximity. They should be apprised of the circumstances and encouraged to manage their new resettlement. It is not fair of them to be insisting their original homesteads.

I believe that if these people could be paid some sort of compensation in addition, they would also be quiet happy.


Bala Tampoe contested Colombo Central

I was very happy to read the interesting article about former LSSP politician Bala Tampoe written by Ishara Jayawardena. It was quite interesting to know about Bala’s history.

Unfortunately the writer had missed two important points. He contested the Colombo Central seat on the LSSP ticket in the March or July 1960 general elections but was defeated. The second point was that he crossed over from the LSSP in 1964 with former LSSP MP for Dehiowita Edmund Samarakkody. He was dead against the LSSP joining the SLFP.


A slow boat to England

On August 15, 1964 I sailed to England on a government scholarship, on a ship owned by Aristotle Onassis, the richest man in Greece. He ran a shuttle service to Australia ferrying mainly housewives and minor labour from Greece. He also owned oil tankers (and later married the wife of John Kennedy, President of the USA). The ship was anchored in the old harbour and my wife and I had to take a small boat and climb the perilous gangway in the dark. There were other Sri Lankans, students from the Arts Faculties also on scholarship, an Obstetrician on retirement and a father taking his two daughters to Lourdes, all booked by a Greek travel agent. I had thought it interesting to go by sea and arranged passage with Thomas Cooks in Colombo. The journey took 16 days. I like to share an experience of a forgotten age. I am now 80 years.

When we boarded, dinner had been served and the purser gave us sandwiches. Though we had first class tickets, we were on a deck way down below, amidst the Greek labourers in a tiny cabin with a porthole. There were two bunk beds on top of each other. My wife was seasick all the way.

I roamed all over the ship and organized a farewell concert of harvesting paddy and reciting kavi, the night before dis-embarking. I remember a huge brawny butcher, a charming retired hospital matron and an advertising executive. We sat together for meals, mostly noodles, tomato ketchup, buns, small packets of butter and cheese and mounds of salad. The butcher sat with me, amazed by the mountain of food on his plate.

The Greeks did not speak English. They were loud and noisy except for a fellow wearing a black hat silent like a psychopath sitting alone on deck always in the same place. I was scared he would steal behind and suddenly flip me overboard. It was late in the night when we arrived at Aden and passengers had to buy things in the dark, stepping dangerously on boats crowding the sides of the ship. I bought a cheap camera, a coloured film roll and a portable tape-recorder when we docked at Suez the next day. The Greeks bought a lot of things - radios, plastic kitchenware, dolls etc. and the next morning was a cacophony. Sailing down the Suez Canal was very interesting watching from the bow. I saw the red sand of the Sinai Desert on the right, green fields, date palm-trees and people riding camels on the left. This was to be a last time when the six-day war with Israel began and Nasser sank ships in the Canal blocking it for a long time.

I had trouble with the Greek tour guide from the start because he ignored my first class ticket. The ship docked at Piraeus and we stayed there for three days, went on a tour of Athens, saw the famous ruins, and eventually to Benghazi on a dirty steamer. Here too my wife and I were put in a tiny cabin down below. Next to us was an Australian vet with his wife. He had a stomach ache and the wife urgently consulted me. I gave aspirin and verbal therapy. It worked magic. The wife insisted in paying but I refused. While in Athens, I sent what I assumed by my hand signals at the post office, an air letter to my brother to meet me in London. We travelled in the Rapido Express through Europe and were taken to the Vatican and saw the ancient arena of the gladiators etc. While on the train in a second-class birth, I asked the travel agent to refund my ticket. There was a row and he threatened to throw me out. At Calais, he whispered something to the Port Health Officer who took my wife and me to a room and examined us for malaria. We almost missed the train to London and did not know anything about our baggage.

The train arrived at Victoria Railway station after midnight. Relatives met my fellow passengers and soon my wife and I were alone in that huge place. There was no baggage. I suddenly saw a forlorn suitcase at the far end of the platform. The last train from Dover had dumped it there. There was no sign of my brother. My wife was in tears. I remembered a friend and went to the phone booth. To my horror, there were not only numbers but also letters. I read the instructions carefully and dialed operator and told him, “I am a doctor. This is my first visit to your country. I want to contact a friend (Dr. Kingsley Ratnanather at Bexley Hospital) but I do not know his number or how to telephone from this booth”. This was my inaugural experience of courtesy and British efficiency. He told me to wait. After a minute or so he rang, told me to put 25p and press the button. Kingsley came on line immediately and asked me to wait there. I looked up from the booth and saw a huge clock on the roof and told him that I shall be under the clock, when to my horror I saw several. I began to flit from clock to clock lugging the suitcase. Kingsley came with his wife in about an hour, and we soon ate hot rice and curry at his house but was shocked to find the bed-sheet and covers freezing cold, as if taken out of the fridge.

Kingsley fixed me a locum job at the hospital. I travelled by chauffeur doing psychiatric clinics. I returned to it after my exam and a few days before returning home, went to Regent Street to buy an electric Singer sewing machine that was heavily advertised. The Agent sold me I assumed was a new one but when I went to my flat discovered I had been tricked with a used one. I typed a letter to Singer Headquarters and threatened to complain to Scotland Yard for investigating fraud in business.

The manager drove to Bexley Hospital, apologized profusely, assured he will ship a brand new machine, invited my wife for lessons and asked her to practice on the old one till then. I played hell with the Regent Street agent.

I was living at Stratham travelling daily from Tooting Bec underground to London. One day, I was on the ground floor of a double decker seated with an Italian and his wife carrying a child. He had left their pram in the gangway and when the black conductor asked to keep it in the luggage compartment, he imperiously said, “You do it.”

The young man took the pram, and when the bus moved, I saw he had left it on the pavement. The Italian went in rage and hit him. He hit back with the ticket machine. There was pandemonium. I rang the bell.

The bus reached the tube station. I looked out of the window for the pram. It had vanished. I wrote to the London Transport Board describing the incident and asked them to defray the loss because they had a contract to take also the pram. I was immediately invited to attend an inquiry but my wife was scared blacks would set upon me. In any case, it was time to return home.

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