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Open letter on health crisis and Opposition’s stand on Minister Rambukwella

Friday, 28 July 2023 00:28 –      – 15

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Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

 

A motion of “no confidence” in parliament as proposed by the Opposition in no way could pave for an answer in this situation that demands the immediate resignation of the Minister. A health minister with callous disregard for human lives who said, “Undertakers are in front of hospitals for that. It’s the reality.” Proven guilty of the drug scam or not, Rambukwella is no more accepted in society as clean and suitable to be the Minister of Health. He needs to be moved out immediately, no matter what the numbers in parliament would say on a “no confidence” motion

 

Let me first say, I do appreciate the interventions made by the official Opposition in parliament, questioning the evolving crisis in our State hospitals that exposed severe deviations in procurement of medicinal drugs, their quality and efficacy and heavy corruption that now need independent investigations and legal action, and a change in the political leadership of the Ministry too. What is now taking place is exactly the opposite, with the health minister held responsible for the massive drug scam himself appointing an investigating committee.

This major fraud in procuring drugs for State hospitals and for O.P.D. prescriptions, is challenged in the Supreme Court, with Transparency International SL (TISL) filing an FR petition (SC/FR 65/2023) over five months ago on 16 February that raised public interests too. They appealed to the SC to “l. declare that the importation into Sri Lanka of the said 38 medical/medicinal/pharmaceutical supplies from the 45th Respondent, as pleaded, is wrongful, arbitrary and capricious, illegal, unlawful, null and void, and of no force or avail in law;” along with over a dozen other requests that would hold all Respondents in the TISL FR petition binding to the SC decisions one way or the other.

Most importantly, the TISL had established with enough evidence the Minister of Health Rambukwella had a definite hand in the whole scam from the very beginning. In their petition to the SC they say, “119. In view of the blatant abuse of process by inter alia the said Minister of Health for procuring medical supplies, the Petitioners tendered a complaint to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption [CIABOC] on 14/02/2023.”

All that and more in the FR petition filed with the SC leads to the immediate need to change the political leadership in the Ministry, the President is still avoiding, and that will not allow independent investigations and remedial measures possible either.

There in fact are two remedial processes different social representations can adhere to in achieving justice for people in need. One is the legal process through judicial intervention, the TISL is seeking and the other is the political intervention political parties should resort to, as representatives elected to parliament and directly responsible to the “People”. As we see, the legal process sought by civil organisations and citizens, take time to decide on pleas made with due procedure adopted, as in this case about safety and security of life, where the SC took around 1 month and 20 days to decide on leave to proceed with the TISL petition. Apparently, the petition is not finally decided upon as yet, after over five months. Meanwhile over this period, we have been hearing almost regularly of infants and youth among others being left with severe aftereffects and some losing their lives allegedly due to bad quality drugs used in Government hospitals. Their numbers making it a tragedy demanding immediate answers.

Independent of the legal redress and relief sought by civil organisations, political leaderships with elected representatives in parliament, should take responsibility in providing an immediate political answer to the People, beyond criticism and condemnations levelled in parliament. A motion of “no confidence” in parliament as proposed by the Opposition in no way could pave for an answer in this situation that demands the immediate resignation of the Minister. A health minister with callous disregard for human lives who said, “Undertakers are in front of hospitals for that. It’s the reality.” Proven guilty of the drug scam or not, Rambukwella is no more accepted in society as clean and suitable to be the Minister of Health. He needs to be moved out immediately, no matter what the numbers in parliament would say on a “no confidence” motion.

We have come to a political situation, that demands political leaderships in the Opposition to reach out to people instead of restricting themselves to speeches in parliament that provide no answers to any of the issues people need solutions for. To believe an elected parliament is the “voice of the people” till the next election, and to get closeted in it leaving out people is a sad mistake all political parties make. Between elections most governments have to be lobbied and pressured for answers and that is about “people’s collective strength” political parties should depend on.

This health tragedy with fatalities is one that needs such “social outcry” to compel the President to remove the Health Minister if the Minister is not prepared to resign immediately. Leading that “social outcry” for removal of the Health Minister immediately I say, is your responsibility for the People, right now. Parliamentary speeches can continue, but answers can only be sought on the collective strength of the People. Let me also finally say, an Opposition restricted to parliament sans people outside, is no Opposition of social worth even in parliamentary politics.

I would therefore request you to lead a people’s campaign to remove the Minister of Health immediately and leave the health ministry under the purview of an independent Special Parliamentary Committee responsible to parliament chaired by an Opposition MP, until the SC delivers its final decision on the TISL FR petition, and an independent Committee appointed by parliament investigates this drug scam.


(The writer can be reached at kusal.perera@gmail.com.)

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