16 contenders vie for top DGHS slot

Amidst complaints DDGs marginalized



With sixteen aspirants vying for the top Director General of Health Services (DGHS) slot, a new appointment is expected to be made within the next three to four weeks, a high-ranking health official said last week.

"We are now processing the applications and the selection will be made by a panel headed by the Finance Ministry Secretary", says Dr. Nihal Jayathilake, Secretary to the Health Ministry.

Four other members to the panel will be appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers. The first three names of the officers selected at the interview will be submitted by the selection panel to the Health Minister to be placed before the Cabinet for selection, he explained.

The Cabinet will make the final decision on the appointment, he noted. "Unlike many other institutions, the Cabinet decides on the appointment of a DGHS".

This top administrative position in the government health sector fell vacant following the retirement of Dr. Ajith Mendis who stepped down on September 6 after a one-month extension.

The Health Ministry circular setting out the criteria for selection had accorded high priority to officers in the "senior medical administrative grade" which has effectively marginalized the top-most grade of deputy directors general (DDGs) in service, a senior official complained.

"This is like starting from the second line of order while ignoring the top bracket which is the cream", he pointed out. The existing order comprises DDGs, senior administrators and deputy administrators.

This is akin to appointing an ASP or a SSP as the next IGP, he noted. "Naturally, a successor is selected from amongst senior DIGs in the police service".

He said that there is no issue with the mandatory conditions which specify that applicants should hold a permanent position in the health service, should be under 60 years old and possess a recognized postgraduate qualification.

Similarly, how can a senior medical administrator be given high priority for selection as the next DGHS when there are DDGs who are on a level over and above them?, he queried. "The structure consists of the DGHS, DDGs, directors and deputy directors".

Under these circumstances, even an officer in a permanent position, under 60 years old and holding a recognized postgraduate diploma stand the chance of being selected, he protested. "They have started with the second level which is unprofessional".

He said that there is no problem with the secretaries of the finance, health and public administration ministries serving on the independent selection panel, but the issue is the inclusion of two others – a politically-appointed senior official of the Sri Jayewardenepura Teaching Hospital and a former ministry secretary, as they could favor certain candidates.

One of them is a member of the Cabinet-appointed Tender Board of the Health Ministry and the other is also associated with meetings in connection with tenders in the institution he serves, the official said. "They are well known to certain medical officers who can be favored when it comes to selections".

"We should have people with wide knowledge in medical administration sitting on the panel", he elaborated. "Otherwise they could make recommendations which are biased and unacceptable".

The procedure adopted should have been to select a DGHS from amongst the DDGs who are next in line in terms of seniority, academic achievements and administrative exposure without accommodating senior medical administrators on a priority basis, the official said.

Dr. Nihal Jayathilake is at present the acting DGHS. On earlier occasion, DDGs Dr. Wimal Jayantha, Dr. Ananda Gunasekera and Dr. Sunil de Alwis had served in an acting capacity many times when the then DGHS, Dr. Ajith Mendis was overseas.

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