Raging battle for top DG slot amidst vilification campaignJuly 14, 2012, 6:49 pm
by Suresh Perera
Amidst the battle to stake a claim to the state health administrative sector’s top job intensifying, Dr. Ajith Mendis, the incumbent Director-General of Health Services, has been targeted, in what medical officials described as a "malicious vilification campaign orchestrated to thwart a possible extension of service".
Scurrilous literature castigating the DG has also surfaced at the Health Ministry in a vicious attack on the senior-most medical administrator in Sri Lanka, they asserted. "It is a shame that certain people with covert agendas can stoop so low".
It is common knowledge that a junior doctor on the Minister’s personal staff enjoying enormous political clout was spearheading the campaign with a vengeance as he had clashed with Mendis over the awarding of a tender for surgical gloves, they claimed. "He wants an honorable man out so that he can have his way with bids running into millions of rupees".
The frantic mud-slinging began after the report of the Presidential Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which questioned Mendis on the procurement of a consignment of orthopaedic devices at a cost of Rs. 180 million, emerged virtually out of the blues. The key issue raised by investigators was why more medical equipment was purchased when stocks were available, officials said last week.
The timing of the report on the SIU "investigation" has also raised more questions because it had surfaced to coincide with the DG’s August 6 retirement when the alleged irregularity had occurred in 2010 and he had been questioned the following year (2011), they said.
With speculation rife that Mendis would be given a one-year extension as a replacement was "difficult to find immediately", the report had abruptly emerged in what can be perceived as a bid to undermine the chances of an extension of service, the officials pointed out.
The report forwarded by the SIU officers, who were laymen unfamiliar with medical matters, blamed the DG for "procuring fresh stocks when the equipment was already available with the Medical Services Division (MSD)", they explained.
Unlike the stocks at hand, the devices were of different sizes and specifications, as recommended by a top orthopaedic surgeon. They had been procured only after the then NHSL Director, Dr. Hector Weerasinghe had sanctioned the purchase followed by the go-ahead by a technical evaluation committee.
Subsequently, Mendis had submitted a lengthy explanation to Dr. Ravindra Ruberu, the then Secretary of Health, who had in turn, made his observations and forwarded a report to Minister Maithripala Sirisena.
"That’s right, I have handed over the report to the Minister and it is left to him to decide on the next step", Ruberu said yesterday.
Asked whether DG has been exonerated or not, he replied, "That is not for me to comment on as I have made my observations and given the report to the Minister".
Officials said the report had reached the conclusion the DG had not erred in procuring the medical equipment which was vitally required. The devices that were available were not of the same sizes and specifications as those purchased.
The DG’s extension of service rests with the Cabinet of Ministers on the recommendation of the Health Minister.
There is ongoing hectic activity by other aspirants vying for this prestigious top slot in the country’s vital government health segment with some of them lobbying the powers-that-be, but the choice appears to be tough in terms of their overall performance, medical officials explained. "It is more often a case of seniority ‘yes’ but performance ‘no’".
"It is obvious that this campaign against the DG has been unleashed with malicious intentions to deprive him of the extension", says Dr. Rukshan Bellana, the coordinator of the Medical Administrators Forum.
Look at the planned timing these allegations are being leveled – this is a conspiracy to oust him at a critical time when the country needs the services of experienced medical administrators, he noted. "Complaints are being made to various investigative bodies and nondescript unions are issuing statements to generate publicity to undermine him".
The DG’s extension is purely a matter for the President and the Cabinet to decide", he said. "It is wrong to vilify him in this manner".
"They waited all these years to level charges as they fear the DG will get an extension. The whole objective is to subvert it", said Ven. Murutettuwa Ananda Thera, President of the powerful Public Service United Nurses Union (PSUNU).
Is it right to humiliate and insult a senior medical administrator who has served this country for 35 years? It has become a trend to castigate officials at the tail end of their careers, the prelate noted. "It was Dr. Mendis who kept the health administrative structure afloat".
He said that there is a virtual dogfight for the DG’s position. "We know the antics of those trying to take over have been up to – the less said about all that, the better".
It is against all norms of decency to malign and denigrate a man who has served the nation with profound dedication for three decades plus. "What is happening is unacceptable".
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