President Maithripala Sirisena told Parliament yesterday that a powerful politician of the previous regime had taken a bribe of one billion rupees to shelve the national drug policy draft Bill.
Addressing Parliament at the commencement of the second reading stage debate on National Medicines Regulatory Authority Bill, the President said that 400 pharmaceutical companies each had paid Rs 2.5 million to make up the one billion rupee bribe.
Yesterday was the first time in Sri Lankan parliamentary history that a president addressed the House at the time of a Bill being moved for debate. It was also the first time Sirisena addressed the House after becoming the President.
President Sirisena said that a draft bill he had prepared when he was the Minister of Health but it had gone missing in 2011 due to the intervention of some higher-ups of the then regime.
The then head of the Legal Draftsman Department Theresa Perera accepted the Bill promising that draft would be returned complete in one week. But, thereafter she retired and the draft bill disappeared. “Not only the draft bill but also the hard disc containing it disappeared. I later found that Rs 2.5 million each had been collected from 400 drug companies to delay the bill. I still do not know what had happened to those funds,” President Sirisena said.
He said that an investigation should have been conducted to find the person responsible, but the entire nation knew under whose authority the Legal Draftsman Department functioned then. “It is no secret under whose purview that department was. The loss of the draft bill was the biggest tragedy in the country’s health sector.”
President Sirisena said that he, as the minister of health, had tried to investigate corruption and frauds in the health sector several times but the then President had not permitted him to do so. The Chairman of the State Pharmaceutical Corporation was the personal physician of the then President. “Whenever I complained of frauds and corruption and sought permission to order a probe, the then President told me to mind my own business and leave that job to the Auditor General. I am so happy that finally I have been able to bring this piece of legislation before Parliament for the benefit of the poor people of this country.”
The President recalled how Prof. Senaka Bibile had endeavoured to bring about the national policy for the benefit of the masses. “Prof. Bibile was a great humanitarian. He was also an active member of the LSSP. Prof. Bibile played a pioneering role in setting up the State Pharmaceutical Corporation during the time of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. I know that former Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, too, had done some work to get this Bill formulated. I thank them all,” the President said.