PSC okays interviews

by Suresh Perera

The Secretary to the Health Ministry has been given the green light to conduct interviews for the appointment of a director to the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL), a senior Public Service Commission (PSC) official said last week.

The aspirants who earlier applied for this top slot in Sri Lanka’s biggest state-run medical facility can be summoned to face the interview process, the official said. "The coast is now clear".

The go-ahead to fill the vacancy in this 2,920-bed hospital – one of the biggest in Asia – comes in the wake of last week’s dismissal of Dr. (Mrs) Sujatha Senaratne’s Fundamental Rights (FR) application by the Supreme Court.

The petitioner, wife of Cabinet Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, complained that she was deprived of applying for the vacancy, but the Supreme Court determined that the PSC was justified in not entertaining her application as she had applied late. Otherwise, it would open the flood gates to late applications, citing various excuses.

President’s counsel Romesh de Silva appearing on behalf of the PSC said the relevant circular cannot be cancelled and the post of NHSL director re-advertised as the circular is in line with the Service Minutes and the Gazette notification.

He said this circular had been used since 2010 to appoint four deputy directors and there had not been a single complaint, and even the petitioner did not complain of any such flaws in respect of the circular. Nobody has challenged the circular on that ground that it was flawed, until recently.

He said the PSC remains one the few independent bodies in the country, which could not be pressurized.

"If the circular is to be cancelled and a new advertisement published, all the previous circulars since 2010 should also be nullified, and the appointments made on that basis too, would have to be annulled. If such steps are taken, the country’s health service would be in a chaotic situation", De Silva argued.

The Counsel pointed out that the PSC is one the few independent bodies in the country which could not be pressurized by the Health Ministry, though the petitioner is the wife of a senior minister.

The Sunday Island learns that there were four senior medical administrators who vied for this prestigious NHSL top position in the country’s premier hospital, but as the court action stalled the process, the aspirants — Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director,  Kalubowila Hospital, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, Western Province Director Health Services, Dr. Sam Samarasinghe, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Health and Dr. Ananda Gunasekara, Director, Central Blood Transfusion Services — were not interviewed.

The process can move forward as there is no obstacle now for the vacancy to be filled, the PSC official said. "The Health Ministry Secretary can summon the contenders for interviews".

Asked whether Dr. Senaratne, who was NHSL’s "acting director", can remain in her original position as deputy director, the official replied, "There is no objection to that in terms of the court order. She cannot be considered for the director’s slot".

She is considered relatively junior in service in terms of the other four aspirants as she has no previous experience even as the head of a hospital at district level. She had served earlier as deputy director of Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH) and the Colombo Dental Institute, health sources said.

Health officials described NHSL as a "convenient political platform" as the sprawling medical facility employed more than 7,000 workers. In addition, there are over 1,000 doctors. "There are allegations that some hospital workers were deployed for election-related work in the Kalutara district".

Dr. Senaratne’s appointment as acting director had come under flak with the GMOA (NHSL branch) also mulling a ‘a non-cooperation campaign’, but Health Secretary Ravindra Ruberu insisted that her appointment was in adherence with established procedures in making appointments as she is the most senior officer in the senior medical administrative grade in NHSL (S/I March 4, 2012).

He said that due to the uniqueness of NHSL in the healthcare system, it was gazetted on April 16, 2007, by extraordinary gazette notification that deputy directors of NHSL are to be appointed from the senior medical administrative grade.

"It is the only hospital where deputy directors are appointed from amongst officers of the senior medical administrative grade".

It was then pointed out by health officials that the first two aspirants for the director’s slot (Dr. Anil Jasinghe and Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva) were considered more eligible while the third (Dr. Sam Samarasinghe) was already a Deputy DG. Apparently, two of the aspirants were knocked out as they didn’t find favor with the powers that be.

"However, Jasinghe, one of the senior-most medical administrators in the country, was moved out on a regular transfer to Kalubowila Hospital in 2009 and Dr. Rani Fernando (then NHSL deputy director) was on the verge of retirement".

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