Colombo, April 13 (DailyFT): Parliament should represent the will of the people, says State Minister of National Heritage, Performing Arts and Rural Arts Promotion Vidura Wickramanayaka, commenting on the on-going economic and political crisis in the country.
In the backdrop of the evolving situation in the country, he spoke to Daily FT on the attacks on his house, when it was empty and devoid of either barricades or security. He continues to stand by his decision not to resort to (either barricades or security).
Q: First of all, you were one of the targets of this current protest by the people. Your house was attacked. Your comments?
A: Is this democracy or demo-demo-crazy? I do not condone sinister attacks on people or property owing to their political belief or ideology. On several occasions we have witnessed carnage in 1971 and 1986 to 1989, likewise from 1983 to 2009.
I have critiqued the system in operation. Personally I am not for personal glorification and building cults. Similarly, I am against personal attacks. I support a change in the political system.
Q: Some months back you wanted the entire Cabinet to step down. Could you explain your position now?
A: Yes. Even at this time, I am for it. We need a cabinet that is clean, honest and knowledgeable. Pampering of politicians needs to be stopped. A total of 225 persons is not needed to govern a country. Progressive non-wastage centric parliamentary models such as that of Sweden should be studied carefully.
Q: There are some fears that certain countries may be using this current evolving situation in Sri Lanka for their own geopolitical advantage. Don’t you think that the Rajapaksas themselves could be held accountable for such a scenario given the link to another country through citizenship?
A: I am aware that we are in the face of a situation where many concerns should be taken into account. We cannot compromise the sovereignty of this country. We have to take into account a range of considerations including geopolitical realities. I will limit my answer to this.
Q: Do you think the attack on your house is justified because, from the view of the people, you were among those responsible for bringing in this leadership?
A: I vehemently condemn any attacks on persons or properties. If I have committed any action against the State, I should be tried within the legal framework. My firm belief is, not only the Rajapaksas, but also others should be tried too, based on the allegations. Looting of the nation’s wealth should be stopped at any cost. We should throw the books not only at politicians but also at Government officials, deal makers, etc.
During the protests I refused barricades and security to my home. I was not at home when this attack took place. As I did not canvass for anyone but myself, I take responsibility only for myself.
I have always lived without security or barricades and I continue to do so up to now.
Q: You voted for the 20th Amendment?
A: Yes, I did. I was against eight points. Three were dissolved by the Supreme Court and four were amended by the Parliament itself. Only the dual citizenship issue remained where the President and the Prime Minister personally informed me that in the forthcoming constitution it will be taken care of.
Q: There is a call for politicians to reveal their wealth and publicise this information. Are you ready to do it?
A: Yes. I have already done it on several occasions repeatedly. To me corruption is an ‘apayagatha karma,’ a misery that destroys personal happiness because it takes from another and destroys their wellbeing and happiness. I am someone who wishes to be happy. Simplicity is my happiness. This is the reason I have not joined the political rat race for posts.
Q: There were some eyebrows raised when you were only offered a State Ministry and not a Cabinet portfolio. Your comments?
A: I told the media then and I am telling it once again, that to me it matters not whether I am in a cabinet or a ‘laachuwa’. Neither do I care if I had not even been given a State ministry. Agriculture and Heritage are areas of my personal intellectual and practical interests and encompasses my academic training. More than anything, I am a constant student of these disciplines. I would have worked for my country alongside citizens holding expertise in these areas regardless whether I had a ministry or not. In fact I think there are ordinary citizens doing more work pertaining to different categories of ministerial portfolios than some ministries.
I wish there is a radical shift in how a minister looks at the entrusting of a ministry portfolio. It is a very serious responsibility. We have degraded this to a fickle game of dice by resorting to re-shuffling. Appointing ministers is not a game of cards. We should look at actual expertise and have a proper monitoring mechanism.
Q: What does the word heritage mean to you, personally?
A: To me it reflects Sri Lanka’s ancient civilisation and the vast body of knowledge therein and the dignity of the country. It means that the past can never be disconnected from the present and the future. Heritage is the spine of an ancient civilisation such as ours and its relevance is timeless. Modernity or development cannot replace the connection of a people with its past. Such a disconnection will shift a nation from its roots to a state of confusion. This is what we are seeing today.
Q: What are your current initiatives in this regard?
A: The State Ministry of National Heritage, Performing Arts and Rural Arts Promotion for some months have been working out a practical and pragmatic plan on mainstreaming the concept of heritage in diverse areas that have direct and indirect economic impact. This includes conserving a range of heritage practices of rural areas that have entrepreneurship significance as well as looking at encouraging the private sector to promote the concept of heritage authentically in their endeavours. We are specifically looking at a national action plan for wellbeing, prosperity and unity based on heritage. We are working with persons who are focusing nationally on mainstreaming relevant aspects of heritage.
Soon we will commence such an action plan through an island-wide representative conference that will be held in different parts of the country. We will be led by citizens who have commitment to upholding the heritage of Sri Lanka through practical means. We have started tabulating a list of such persons and have communicated to them to give us their recommendations for initiating islandwide public consultations prioritising the link between heritage, economy and dollar conservation.
This will be conducted in a village centric manner that will not be an added economic burden. It will be the start of a continuous process that will work with institutions that are usually kept out of the realm of heritage such as banks, universities and schools. We have for the past year collated diverse media and academic reports on the need for mainstreaming heritage.
Q: You have been trained academically in agriculture. In some previous television-based interviews you have maintained that agriculture should be considered part of heritage. Could you elaborate?
A: Yes, definitely agriculture should be seen as part of heritage. Agriculture and the inter-related hydraulic systems are core components of our heritage.
These vast bodies of knowledge of our ancestors have become almost extinct to us. We are today only theorising about these and this ignorance has cost us dollars. We have been a country with a wealth of knowledge on traditional farming and soil conservation methods. Today this knowledge is ignored. As a result we find ourselves lost as a nation. It is time that we rectify this. This is not the task of one ministry alone. From the education ministry to the finance ministry there should be an interlinked strategy to work on a common thread of policy that suits the nation, its history and its resources. Modern science should be utilised in full, not as an alternative to heritage based knowledge, but in an inter-connected and non-harmful manner to earth and humans.
Not only agriculture, there are heritage linked significance in almost all ministries, for example even the ministry of foreign affairs. Sri Lanka had mastered the art of diplomacy from ancient times. We had interacted with other nations, maintaining our sovereignty and self-respect.
We are currently taking these categories into consideration to look at ensuring food security through conserving indigenous seed varieties; a vacuum within this country since independence in 1948. Soil conservation is also a part of healthy agriculture and a core part of heritage knowledge.
Q: You have spoken on the economic relevance of heritage. What is the significance of banks having a proper understanding of what heritage is at a practical broad-based level?
A: The banking sector has a major responsibility in promoting the concept of heritage (especially intangible cultural heritage) through entrepreneurship. Our ministry hopes to work on this through the creation of awareness programs. The fruition of such efforts will take a while when considering the present economy. However we have already planned to take the first step in this regard.
Q: Heritage in very general understanding is usually considered to be monuments. Your comments?
A: Often we fail to see that historic monuments established by our ancient rulers are linked to the intangible aspect – one example is what is believed to be the first hospital in the world – in Mihintale that is proof of the unique medical heritage of Sri Lanka.
Monuments play a significant role in showcasing the heritage of any nation. However what we must remember is that a monument is integrally connected with the intangible such as a religious philosophy, belief, a set of knowledge or skills that range from folklore, engineering, architectural feats and ancient sciences.
The intangible heritage of a country is its true wealth that is passed on from generation to generation and exists in thousands of Ola leaf manuscripts.
We have to admit that we are cut off from our original heritage based knowledge as we have been under colonisation and neo-colonisation for over five centuries. Now, in short we should initiate a revolution of thoughts.
Q: You recently met formally and informally with writers and artistes of the North. Could you elaborate?
A: End of last year I formally met some artistes in the North with the Tower Foundation representatives to look at providing these artistes with a performance platform and we have worked with a national university to look at encouraging drama and dance through a diploma program. Soon after I informally met several artistes from diverse disciplines and this was organised by a senior poet in the North known to me. In this meeting, I wanted to know first-hand the concerns and issues of these artistes, who were poets, short story writers/novelists, dramatists, musicians and dancers. In my discussion with them we discussed a series of interactions with the southern artists which were scheduled to take place in Colombo in April and hopefully we will be able to go ahead with this.
Q: There is an effort by the Northern Governor Secretariat alongside independent practitioners to initiate a local model of peacebuilding through traditional knowledge and culture. Would your ministry be interested in joining with such endeavours?
A: Certainly. The Central Government ministries are anyway involved at provincial level activities as necessary and we can collaborate together but the provinces have their own freedom to come up with national initiatives on culture as well.
Q: Do you believe arts, heritage and culture can be a construct of peacebuilding and used for a unique national unity model?
A: Yes. Definitely.
Q: There is currently another initiative that is being worked out in the North through the Northern Governor Secretariat assisted by independent practitioners to assist natural heritage and traditional home construction to assist rehabilitated persons develop home tourism models. Your comments?
A: I would be interested to hear more on this from the authorities and practitioners concerned. In this current economic context we need initiatives such as these, not just limited to the North but the whole of Sri Lanka.
Q: What do you think should be the collective role of politicians and civilians to take Sri Lanka forward from these current times?
A: There should be a collective effort emanating from people, guiding politicians. No excuses are permissible for the current state of affairs of the country and all politicians including myself should bear the responsibility for this. While it is the freedom and right of the people to protest, it is important to keep in mind that we need to think of solutions that include people participation. Of course the masses who elected politicians can get rid of them but we also have to keep in mind that creating unrest when there are already many issues may only worsen things. I am not saying this as a politician but as a mere thinking human being.
Q: There are various future leaders of the nation being cited. Are you one?
A: I am already a servant of the people. If you are referring to the roles at the helm, if the people are ready, I am ready too. However, at the end of the day, as I said, I do not believe much in titles and positions. I believe only in what a true leader or statesman can do to uplift the country, whether in a political leadership role or not.