- COPE to investigate approval process
- SLMC still has to comply with Court order
By Himal Kotelawala
The SLFP yesterday said that the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) would probe the dubious circumstances in which the controversial South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) was given approval as a medical degree-awarding institute.
Speaking to the media at the weekly SLFP press conference, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara said that what should ultimately have been the decision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) was made by the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education by way of a gazette notification in 2011.
The power to announce that SAITM was satisfactory in terms of the UGC perquisites fell upon a single individual. We could not find details of any investigation carried out by this person prior to approving the institute,” said Jayasekara.
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has decided to look into the matter, he said.
The Minister noted that the Higher Education Minister at the time had granted the power to the Ministry Secretary through a gazette notification, when questioned if any irregularity had taken place under the watch of the former minister.
“The Minister can decide whom to give that authority to,” he said.
Jayasekara hinted that there was a hurry to get SAITM approved.
“The GMOA and local university students should’ve been consulted before approving this, instead of taking the wrong route,” he said.
However, the Government is duty-bound to obey and respect the recent court order directing the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) to give provisional registration to SAITM graduates, said Jayasekara, adding that the SLFP is of the position that private universities are a necessity going forward.
“We’re of the opinion that new universities are necessary. We’re going to introduce two new science faculties in Ratnapura and Kuliyapitiya. In the meantime, there should be many universities opened by the private sector. The question is how to go about it,” said Jayasekara.
The Government must make a policy decision on the matter taking into account the concerns of all stakeholders, said the Minister, allowing even foreign students to study in Sri Lanka, while ensuring that the rights of local students were not undermined.
Referring to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his loyalists in the Joint Opposition, Jayasekara said that it was unfortunate that those who had once supported SAITM had now joined forces with the elements opposed to it.
The Government is duty-bound to follow the order, reiterated Jayasekara, while insinuating that the lawyers representing the anti-SAITM side had not done their homework.
“If I had represented this case, it may have gone in a different direction,” he said.
Meanwhile, commenting on a matter raised in Parliament by Joint Opposition firebrand MP and National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Wimal Weerawansa requesting the Speaker of Parliament to allow him to speak as a party leader, Minister Jayasekara said that doing so would rob Weerawansa of a front row seat in the Opposition benches.
“He’s not there as a party. He’s there as a UPFA member. MP Chandrasiri Gajadeera made a statement and became independent. He functions independently as a UPFA MP. Wimal and his colleagues can do something similar,” he said, adding that since the NFF is not a member-party of the UPFA coalition, it cannot sit in Parliament as a separate party.
However, if he so wishes, Weerawansa can act independently as an MP of the Joint Opposition, he said.
COPE calls for report on SAITM from UGC
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), which is currently probing matters related to the University Grants Commission, has called for a comprehensive report on the process followed to grant degree awarding status to the South Asia Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM).
“When we were discussing institutions that have been given approval by the UGC, the issue of SAITM was raised. As they claim that UGC has granted them approval we have asked the UGC to submit a full report on how this was done,” COPE Chairman JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti told the Daily FT.
Minimum wage for foreign workers next year
Due to practical difficulties, the proposed minimum wage of $ 350 for Sri Lankan migrant workers will not be implemented until next year, SLFP MP Manusha Nanayakkara said.
Speaking to journalists, the MP said that implementing it this year might result in a reduction in foreign remittances and the number of Sri Lankans finding employment abroad.
“We’re also taking steps to minimise women seeking employment aboard. This has been a success so far. We’ve been able to reduce their numbers by 30%,” he said.