UNP members turn hostile towards anti-SAITM officials

COPE takes up PMC issue

By Saman Indrajith

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) yesterday took up the SAITM (South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine) issue and its sitting looked like a repetition of what had happened when it investigated the controversial Treasury bond issue; some UNP members of the committee had turned hostile towards the professionals opposed to the private medical college, a senior COPE member told The Island last night.

The committee sitting, which commenced at 9 am in the parliamentary complex, lasted till 12.30 pm with the UNP members supporting the SAITM and others including members of the Maithripala Sirisena faction of the SLFP, together with the JVP opposing it, the COPE member said.

The COPE took up the gazette notice issued by former Higher Education Minister SB Dissanayake recognizing the SAITM as a degree awarding institute in 2011. The notice, dated Aug 30, 2011, had been issued on the basis of two reports by Institutional Review Committee and Subject Review Committee appointed by the University Grants Commission. The two committees had been summoned before the COPE yesterday, but owing to time constraints only the Institutional Review Committee (IRC) had been questioned, sources said.

The IRC comprises eight officials, four UGC members and four outsiders, and all were present at yesterday’s session. The four UGC members were its Secretary, Accountant, Legal Officer and Director – Quality Assurance and Accreditation of the UGC. The four independent members were the then Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Colombo, Moratuwa and Sri Jayewardenepura and a representative of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, sources said.

The IRC, appointed in January, 2011, made its first visit to the SAITM on Feb 22 and 23 of the same year. It released its report on the first visit that SAITM could be given degree awarding status temporarily on the condition that provisional recognition should be reviewed within the first six months. All eight members signed the first visit report submitted to the UGC on March 20, 2011.

It was revealed at yesterday’s COPE meeting that six IRC members had made a second visit to the SAITM on April 20, 2011 without informing two independent members. Those who made the visit failed to give reasons for their decision not to invite the two members or reveal who had given them directions to do so, sources said.

It was revealed at yesterday’s meeting that a report based on the second visit had been submitted to the UGC as the final report of the IRC. Two independent members the then VC of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura Prof. Narada Warnasuriya and the SLMC representative Dr NJ Nonis told the COPE that they had seen the report for the first time yesterday and it had been known only to the four UGC members of the IRC. The said report had been taken up at the UGC’s 829th meeting on July 07, 2011 and it was decided that UGC recommend to the then Higher Education Minister to that the SAITM be recognised as a degree awarding institute.

At that point the opposition MPs from the JVP and SLFP pointed out that the gazette notice had been made on the basis of false and fraudulent reports. Then the UNP MPs turned hostile towards the independent members of the IRC while other members of the COPE registered their protest against their conduct. They requested the UNP members not to repeat what they had done during the bond scam probe.

COPE Chairman MP Sunil Handunnetti presided over yesterday’s meeting, attended by MPs Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, MA Sumanthiran, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Dr Harsha de Silva, Ajith Perera, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Harshana Rajakaruna, Hector Appuhamy and Ashok Abeysinghe. MP Aluthgamage had walked out abruptly, sources said.

The COPE would meet again today with the officials of the Kotelawala Defence University testifying before it.

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