Opposition in sinister move against free healthcare - Keheliya Rambukwella | Sunday Observer

Opposition in sinister move against free healthcare - Keheliya Rambukwella

30 July, 2023

Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said that there is a deliberate attempt to use the issues in the health sector by the Opposition and certain other sectors to realise their political objectives.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said, “This is an organised campaign and a deliberate and lethal attack on the free healthcare system which is a very sensitive area. The Opposition has chosen that sector because it is very sensitive. They don’t mind if the people are dying or anything happens as long as they only concentrate on grabbing power. This is a very sinister move by the Opposition.”

Commenting on the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) sponsored No-Confidence Motion against him; Minister Rambukwella said this is a planned move against the Government because the Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been looking into the serious allegations and the situation that arose in the country a year ago.

He said there will be a comprehensive audit inquiry and Auditor General’s report on the allegations levelled against the Ministry on the financial mismanagement and the general administration.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: You have decided to appoint an independent expert committee to promptly investigate allegations raised by various parties concerning specific drugs. Could you explain?

A: The committee investigated it and they also visited the particular place. That is the task of the academic committee appointed and that will be a standing committee. What they said was the incidents of two places, Peradeniya and Kandy, I should have a report within a week’s time.

Q: As reported by the media several deaths were reported in Government hospitals allegedly due to the administration of substandard drugs. Would you like to air your views?

A: There seems to be a well organised move to publicise news on substandard drugs. Some of the media also conducted presentations and media discussions on television. I saw one lady saying that the death at the Peradeniya hospital was completely due to substandard medicines.

They have come to the conclusion that the death occurred due to substandard medicine without looking at the report. Obviously, they are trying to build a case or rather establish their own conclusion without any scientific basis. I also saw a couple of ladies who were on a particular television channel commenting on the issue. The people, who were speaking on substandard medicines and Indian medicines, have come to the conclusion that death has occurred due to substandard medicines.

Q: You have alleged that there is a well-planned attack on the country’s free healthcare system by making false allegations regarding the widespread prevalence of substandard medicines in State-run hospitals. Would you like to comment?

A: There are two issues that I have noticed. One is that there is a move against the Indian assistance that has been given to us. There appears to be some geopolitical situation so that they are trying to attack India for whatever the reasons that they think are suitable at this point of time.

Without going through the expert committee report and saying that the death has occurred due substandard medicines brought from India and to be cautious is a deliberate and lethal attack on the country’s free healthcare system.

Q: The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has handed over its No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against you to the Speaker. However, you have said that you will not resign from your ministerial portfolio solely due to the demands of the people. Your views?

A: I suppose this is a planned move against the Government because the Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been looking into the serious allegations and the situation that arose in the country a year ago. There was a shortage of fuel and gas and the remittances were not coming and the people were on the streets. Basically, we have been addressing these issues very systematically and we have engaged ourselves quite effectively with our friends overseas and the people who have given us financial assistance on whatever the basis.

The debt restructuring is also taking place. All these developments are taking place step by step and the country is getting steady. The inflation rate which was so high has come down to a reasonable level. So, the entire campaign they took up a year ago has changed and the public is under the impression that the issues have been addressed with the parties concerned, donors as well as the people who had given us facilities. So, there is a very sinister concern about all those things.

Q: The General consensus is that the campaign against corruption and other forms of malpractices in the health sector should not be limited to an attempt to remove the Health Minister and it should have a broader scope. What is your view in this regard?

A: In fact, I have also made that request. That is an allegation levelled against the Ministry on the financial mismanagement and the general administration. Initially, I have requested a comprehensive audit to be done through the Auditor General’s Department. I personally wanted that to go through that process.

They have already brought in the people necessary and they have sorted that process. I am very happy about it. So, we will have a high level official Auditor General’s report and his involvement in the allegations that are leveled.

Q: At a recent television interview you raised concern on the conduct of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA). Your views?

A: We have taken a number of measures regarding the NMRA within the past six months. I felt that is one area that needs correction and attention. We have already done that. Obviously there is a lot of resistance and nearly seven and eight years they have been doing certain things which need to be scrutinised.

At the moment, the NMRA doesn’t have the entire cadre. We have certain restrictions as well but we are managing activities quite efficiently.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa alleges that there is a severe shortage of medicines and medical supplies in Sri Lanka. Is there truth in this allegation?

A: Yes, there is. Right now, we are in a situation managing it. We have improved the situation.

Q: The Opposition alleges the people who have been admitted for minor illnesses have died due to being administered substandard medication. Would you like to elaborate? However, you have said that allegations of substandard medicines being used cannot be accepted as there is no official definition to rate any medicine as of inferior quality. Could you elaborate?

A: I can’t understand when they say substandard they accuse some Indian medicine is substandard. I think they talked about 10-15 years ago. Today India is at a different level. If you look at the journals and other statistics, at least a minimum of 50 percent of Indian medicines are all over the developed world including countries such as Canada and UK. As I told you it can be a geopolitical issue or a sort of an attack on the Indian pharmaceutical industry. There may be various reasons. India unconditionally extended their support to us when we had the worst ever economic crisis.

Q: You had told the media that the Government has introduced a program to prevent a shortage of medicines in future. Could you explain?

A: We are working for 2023, 2024 supplies to be much more effective and efficient. We have got breathing space because the Finance Ministry is also assisting us in certain areas. They had some serious financial issues six months or one year ago. Now they are much more relaxed and they will be able to look into the areas of financing much more effectively.

Q: How do you view the concerns raised by doctors and health sector trade unions on the circular issued by the Health Ministry Secretary alleging that it is an attempt to prevent them from commenting on the issues in the health sector?

A: I think that is in accordance with the code and the rest of the provisions laid down by the administrative and other circulars and whatever the E codes. If there is anything that the Ministry is going against the E code and general administrative systems, we can take up the matter and see whether that is true.

Q: Do you think there is a deliberate attempt to use the issues in the health sector by the Opposition and certain other sectors to realise their political objectives?

A: That is exactly what I said. I can prove that once this debate takes place. I will also let the nation know the exact and sinister move by the Opposition.

Q: How do you view the All Party Conference convened by President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday to inform the Party Leaders representing the Parliament about the National Reconciliation Program and North-East Development Plan?

A: I suppose the dialogue is the best form to resolve issues. We may have failed a number of occasions but there is no way other than having discussions and coming into consensus on this issue.

So, the President has very rightly wanted all the voices to be heard and to discuss the issue very openly. There is no hidden agenda in any of those things.

Q: Serious concerns have been raised on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and Tamil political parties also have divergent views on it. Under these circumstances, will it be possible to reach a consensus to find a lasting solution to the ethnic issue?

A: All sections of the society have very diverse views of this. So, the best manner of resolving it is bring all those and discuss perhaps led the majority to proceed.