COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition on Friday defeated a no-confidence motion against the country's health minister who has been accused of allegedly failing to secure enough essential drugs and laboratory equipment that some say resulted in preventable deaths in hospitals.
The motion was initiated by opposition lawmakers who claimed Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella's actions had ruined the health sector. The parliament debated for three days before defeating the motion in a 113-73 vote on Friday in the 225-member house.
Sri Lanka provides free health service through state-run hospitals but they have suffered from a shortage of medicines and health workers, especially doctors, as a result of an economic crisis after the government suspended repayment of foreign loans.
Rambukwella has rejected the opposition's allegations against him.
Several patients have died or suffered impairments, including blindness, during treatment at state-run hospitals in recent months under circumstances that are being investigated by the Health Ministry. Their relatives, trade unions, activists and opposition lawmakers alleged that low-quality drugs had led to poor patient care.
Sri Lanka’s financial troubles have been triggered by a shortage of foreign currency, excessive borrowing by the government, and efforts by the central bank to stabilize the Sri Lankan rupee with scarce foreign reserves.
Sri Lanka’s total debt has exceeded $83 billion, of which $41.5 billion is foreign. Sri Lanka has secured a $3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and is taking steps to restructure its domestic and foreign debts.
The economic crunch has caused severe shortages of food, medicine, fuel, cooking gas and electricity last year, which led to massive street protests that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.
Amid the crisis, thousands of Sri Lanka are leaving the country for better paying jobs abroad, including about 1,500 doctors who have left over the last year, according to a union.