Strikes are not a new experience to Sri Lankans. Each year, at least two-three strikes are launched in Sri Lankan hospitals. It is the general public who experience difficulties due to these strikes. Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) had announced that they will launch their latest strike 3 August against the Singapore Free Trade Agreement and ten other matters.
We met with the GMOA Deputy Secretary Dr Naveen De Soyza to discuss GMOA’s strike.
GMOA is getting ready to launch this strike against the Singapore Free Trade Agreement and 10 other matters. How do you think the Singapore agreement affects professionals?
First and foremost, certain young and inexperienced ministers are attempting to limit this strike to a protest against the Singapore agreement. They are doing this merely because they have to do something for the ministerial portfolios they have been given. We are striking over ten matters, and the Singapore agreement is one of them.
But it is not the only thing we pay our attention to. We are speaking about the manner in which the agreement was signed as well. We are talking about the crisis of not having a national trade policy. We are demanding a national policy because there should be a legal procedure to investigate unwarranted profits, scams and favoritism.
When the government came to power in 2015, they said this country should be open to the world. Later they criticized us saying we are against it. We wonder what the parliamentarians know. As per the Cabinet Spokesperson and a professor, approximately 100 parliamentarians do not have OL qualifications. This is the nature of the place we are going to present this to. We said them issues can arise when implementing government’s programs without a national trade policy, and subsequently suggested them to develop a national trade policy.
It is up to the government to decide whether they sign agreements. They have introduced a Singapore agreement without a trade policy which is supported by only K.A.Weerasinghe and the minister. All we are saying is, we must develop our own guidelines.
If the government is planning to achieve development goals through signing trade agreements, we do not have any issues with it. But we need to have a trade policy when we prepare trade agreements. What is the assurance this agreement will boost our development? Even if we have to suffer loss, people who make these trade agreements do not face any punishment. They will again do similar things with the next government. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government attempted this, but when we opposed they stopped it. Now this government is trying to do the same thing.
This affects the professionals of the country. Did anyone who administered the country make a proper system for professionals? We were able to triple the number of medical specialists during Maithripala Sirisena’s period. But this government discriminates professionals.
What do you mean when you say we need a national policy?
We have economic specialists who truly love this country and they will tell us how to make a national trade policy. It should be presented to the parliament, and we must be aware of what to do when we develop a national policy.
Politicians think signing agreements is a big task. They do not think about investments, they think about the number of agreements only. We must think about ways of strengthening our workers. Around 40% of people find it difficult to maintain their day to day lives mainly due to having to spend money for health services. There are public and private health services, but still people do not receive equal health benefits because we have not established a proper system.
Singapore agreement is an economic investment. Why do you say its influence will be harmful?
We have accepted open economy. But it’s not sufficient. If we want all these investments, we can do that through the Board of Investments. If we think countries like India, China and Singapore are coming forward to help our development work, it’s a joke. It’s not wrong to bring investments based on policies. But if we have policies, they will lose commissions. That is why they do not want to accept this system. Minsiter Malik Samarawickrama presented a document called national policy to the cabinet. Singapore agreement was signed after showing this document to the President. Its methodology, name and contents are all wrong and therefore it’s not a national policy. Fooling people like this must be stopped.
In this context, we have a responsibility to reveal the truth. We are the only people that is coming forward as an organization. If we hide, they will sell the doctors tomorrow. But by then, we’ll be too late. Politicians are hurt because they are losing something. They want to silence us, but we won’t stop. We demand that a national policy be implemented. If the President can appoint a commission for this, we can solve the rest of the problems in future.
One might feel GMOA is against investments. What is the basis for this opposition?
We can bring investments, we can sign agreements. But we need a national policy. Just like there is a law for marriages, make a national trade policy for trade agreements. Later we can sign agreements based on that policy. Those who sign the agreements must be answerable to the parliament and the public.
Only GMOA strikes, why?
Forty unions have joined this. But only we can take a significant step. We feel it’s high time to take an action. Not only the Singapore trade agreement, but also there are ten more reasons such as matters affecting doctors and establishing minimum standards in medical education. As an answer to our questions, politicians give us Rs 15,000. If they try to limit us like this, there is something seriously wrong in this country.
GMOA discussed with the President, did you reach an agreement?
We discussed with the President. He said he won’t compromise the country. The President had asked the responsible parties to follow the national policy. But there is no national policy. They have shown the President some book as the national policy. Even though the President has come to an agreement, some people are implementing a completely different national policy.
GMOA has been accused of forgetting health sector issues and coming forward for political needs. Although the government did a good service to uplift free health services, the government says you don’t talk about it. What is your opinion?
Unlike certain unions, we do not worship ministers. As we believe, politicians have been appointed to work. When the politicians do their job, we must help them fill the gaps. Harin Fernando had said there are helpless doctors in villages. But there are no helpless doctors, there are however helpless patients. There is no difference between the standards of doctors. If however there is such a problem, politicians must find solutions. GMOA has no political opinions. We support government’s policy-based work.
It is the patients who always face difficulties due to doctors’ strikes. It’s not a good situation, is it? Why can’t these problems be solved through discussions?
For that, we first need to have a discussion. How can we do it without actually having a discussion? We have been requesting for discussions for over a month. Discussions will be done after the strike. This time, we will let people know what the issue is. We say the right thing, we win the right thing. We can’t say when. Even when the war ended people faced difficulties, but after the war, people were relived. Similarly, if we fight and make a national trade policy, our children will live without having to deal with these issues.
Photos – Ajith Senevirathne