It is customary for the people to blame the government when problems are not solved. This is especially the case when there are strikes by trade unions, student bodies, demonstrations and road blocks by people who take law into their hands. Even when Bishops such as Rayappu Joseph and others propagate myths against the government it is the government that takes the rap. However, very often the Professionals and their trade unions are able to control the affairs of the country through sheer power they have obtained by passing a few examinations. The Professionals are sometimes more powerful than the politicians who become helpless but continue to be blamed by the people who do not go into the problem deep enough.
So called professional bodies have been established to look after the interests of certain professions through acts of Parliament. There are Colleges for all sort of disciplines and very often we see on television how the Presidents of these Colleges and Institutes are inducted (I almost said indicted) at the beginning of their terms of office. The members of the particular College or the Institute clad usually in red cloaks, and the ceremonies associated are full of pomp though very often the number of people who attend these ceremonies is not large. It is the English who gave this tradition of establishing colleges and inducting Presidents, and giving an artificial importance to the associated ceremonies. The members, fellows and what not are supposed to have an expert knowledge in the relevant discipline and their decisions very often become the last word. However, though they may have been elected FXYZ, where F stands for Fellow, and XYZ stand for this or that College or Institute, none of them working in Sri Lanka has been elected a FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society of London). Even of the Sri Lankans residing outside only one person has been elected a FRS and that again not for introducing any new concept or theory. Forget, the FRS, how many of them have published so called research papers in Nature? It has to be emphasized I mention FRS and Nature not because I think high of them but since these Fellows look up to them.
Though the Parliament is supposed to be the institution that makes law, and the cabinet of ministers is finally responsible to the Parliament the Professionals their Professional bodies and trade unions can bypass the decisions of the law makers simply using the strength of their certificates. Consider two recent examples where the professionals in the health sector have created chaos without getting involved in the problems openly. The duration of the degree course in the Faculties of Allied Health Sciences has to be decided by the relevant University Senate and the Council of the University, bodies created by the universities act. The university senate may also be a professional body with so called university autonomy but the Parliament knows how to handle awkward situations if they arise. Once the University senate recommends and the council approves the duration of a course of study, and the Parliament is in agreement with the decision who could obstruct implementing the decision?
Though the training of the nurses is not guided by the universities, meaning the senates and the councils, there are legal bodies that are involved with decisions regarding such deeds. The trade unions of nurses are perfectly entitled to request for certain training given to their members to enhance their expertise, and also to request extending the training period. As I understand the trade unions of the nurses want the authorities to extend the training given to them to four years and to include midwifery in the syllabus.
The university students are agitating over the reduction of the duration of their course from four years to three years for about 150 days. Their decision to go to temple trees on a protest march to meet the President when the international youth conference being held in Sri Lanka may be according to some other agenda but their request has to be heard. Similarly though the decision by the trade unions to resort to trade union action risking the lives of the poor patients cannot be condoned, they have to be listened to by the authorities.
Of course the relevant trade unions should be able to protest and negotiate with the government and resort to trade union action if the decision goes against the interests of the members. We have two bodies, the student body, though not legally recognized by the government (it would not be a bad idea to recognize the “anthare” or the IUSF by an act of Parliament and regularize election of office bearers etc.) and the trade union of the nurses (though there are more than one trade union representing the nurses, it appears that one of them is leading the agitation), registered under the trade union act. However, there are other trade unions and professional bodies involved with, though they do not openly take ‘action”. However, they issue statements and contribute to national newspapers as experts and office bearers and give their opinion on the issues.
What is involved is who should do what in the field of medicine, and it is clear that the “doctors” who are at the apex of the health services are against giving a four year training in either case for reasons known to them. As a past president of FUTA I know that academic reasons can be given or cooked up to justify the demands by a trade union and what we are witnessing is power struggle between the doctors and the nurses and the allied health science students on the other hand. It is unfortunate that the doctors, the nurses and the Allied health science students are involved in a power struggle according to the practices introduced by the English. They all cook up stories on standards of degrees, and any other bullshit that they can think of as if they are genuinely interested in the lives of the patients (there may be some individuals who are interested in but as trade unions and professional bodies they have other vested interests). What would happen if one day the Director of Health Services is appointed from the nurses or graduates of allied health science faculties? In fact there is nothing wrong with appointing a person from the SLAS as director of health services or the secretary to the ministry of health.
At present the secretary to the ministry of higher education is not even from the SLAS, and the ministry would not have been in a better position if an academic was appointed to that position. When I was a temporary assistant lecturer at Peradeniya in late sixties Mr. M. J. Perera from the CCS was appointed as the Vice Chancellor amidst opposition from the academics. However, trade union action by FUTA (in fact there was no FUTA or its predecessor FTAU then) were not heard those days and Mr. Perera did not have any difficulties in functioning as the Vice Chancellor. I remember well that in early 1968 Mr. Perera chaired the meeting of the selection board that recommended me as a probationary assistant lecturer, and had they known that I would lead the first ever FUTA strike some twenty four years later, or state that western science is a “pattapal boruwa” about forty years later while functioning as the Dean of a Faculty of Science, they would have had second thoughts recommending me! I must mention that not only Mr. Perera but Mr. D. G. Dayaratne (they had been batch mates of Prof. Saracchandra) also from the CCS who was subsequently appointed as the Vice Chancellor did well in their office.
When different trade unions have different opinions on the same subject what should the government do? The government has to consider the interests of the country and not the vested interests of a profession forced on us by the English, and should not be dictated by the power exerted by one union. It appears that the government is reluctant to take a decision on these two matters as they are "sacred” of the western medical practitioners or doctors in the public sector. It appears that it is not the government that rules the country but a mere few thousand who are not elected by the people, but are armed with some certificates issued by various bodies. The government should take a firm stand and face up to any intellectual terrorism that could be exercised by the trade unions and the professional bodies.
Nalin De Silva