Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella yesterday in parliament demanded to know from ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa as to how he and Joint Opposition oppose the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine now after giving 600 million rupees to set up the SAITM during the last government.
Minister Kiriella said: Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave 600 million rupees to Dr Neville Fernando to commence the SAITM. That is good. Now we all could legalise private university education. Those who started the SAITM today oppose it. How and why are you opposing the SAITM now?
Kiriella said so after former President Rajapaksa condemned the government for taking university students who protested against the SAITM into custody. “SAITM problem could not be solved by taking undergraduates into custody. You should release them,” Rajapaksa said.
MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena: Has the Sri Lanka Medical Council given permission to the SAITM to conduct examinations? The SAITM has not adhered to regulations. It plans to create doctors without following SLMC regulations. The government should stop arresting students.
Minister Kiriella: We have not arrested anybody. Tell us a name of a single student who had been arrested.
NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa: Convener of the Inter University Students’ Federation Lahiru Weerasekera is in remand custody right now.
Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister Ajith Perera: The IUSF convener is remanded for violating a court order. Any one who breaks the law should be punished. The IUSF convener is not above the law. He cannot act in violation of court orders. During the times of Mahinda Rajapaksa government the students were beaten all along the roads. They were not only arrested but also shot dead on roads. Today there is no such situation.
Minister Kiriella: If you are against the SAITM, then why did your government give 600 million rupees to start it. The court decision on SAITM is coming on Feb 04. We have information that some students are planning to surround the court on that day. This is what they do. What a shame?
MP Bandula Gunawardena: The Constitution has ensured the right of people to organize themselves and stage protests. That is a democratic right. You are depriving people of that right.
JVP MP Bimal Ratanayake: Lahiru Weerasekera was arrested because he participated in the protest against SAITM. He fought for others. Lahiru has courage to stand against suppression. Eight deans of Lankan universities are against the SAITM. The Government Medical Officers’ Association and the Dentists’ Association too have rejected it. This government abolished, banned and suspended many things initiated and funded by Mahinda Rajapaksa government. Then why cannot the government do the same here?
Minister Kiriella: Doctors too have threatened to stage boycotts if the court ruling went in favour of the SAITM. The government’s policy is to widen the opportunities for higher education. We are promoting private educational institutions. We will do so with due regulations.
MP Bimal Ratnayake: We may talk about privatising of education some other time separately. There is no problem with the government’s standpoint and we all are aware of that. But the SAITM is not private education. It is a den of thieves in the name of private education.
Minister Kiriella: I met with Prof Carlo Fonseka about six months back. He told me that there should be a solution for the SAITM issue before his life ends. We should respect him and find a solution.