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Academics, researchers & practitioners condemn the Government’s attempts to remove the Director General of the National Archives

23rd December 2019
Colombo, Sri Lanka

TO: His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Presidential Secretariat,
Galle Face
Colombo 01

CC: Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa
Minister of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs
Prime Minister’s Office
58 Sir Ernest De Silva Mawatha
Colombo 07

Mr. M.K. Bandula Harischandra
Secretary
Ministry of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs
8th Floor, Sethsiripaya Stage I
Battaramulla

ACADEMICS, RESEARCHERS AND PRACTITIONERS CONDEMN THE GOVERNMENT’S ATTEMPTS TO REMOVE THE DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned academics, researchers and practitioners, strongly condemn the attempts by the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs to remove the Director General of the Department of National Archives, Dr. Nadeera Rupesinghe. We further note with extreme concern that there has been no official communication as to why the Ministry wants to remove Dr. Rupesinghe.

Dr. Rupesinghe was appointed as the Director General of the Department in August 2017 following the retirement of the previous Director General. In the discharge of her duties, Dr. Rupesinghe has developed an unblemished record of professionalism and demonstrated a strong understanding of how the Department—a critical public institution in this country—should position itself in the future. The Department has a very important role to play in the generation of original research and the production of new knowledge. It is our firm opinion that Dr. Rupesinghe’s vision and knowledge are vital if the Department is to modernise its internal processes, strengthen the capabilities of staff members and genuinely embark on a process to engage all communities in this country—not just as a representative national archival institution but also as a more robust cultural and academic institution.

The attempts to remove Dr. Rupesinghe will have far-reaching consequences for ongoing work and may also irrevocably impact the Department, which is currently undergoing a comprehensive renovation programme and attempting to develop critical policies to guide institutional functions. It is nigh on impossible to strengthen and improve institutions if government officials remove competent professionals, and if the same officials further intervene—with very little technical knowledge—to suspend urgent and time-sensitive work, particularly with projects developed to preserve centuries-old records. Such actions, which are arbitrary, reckless and uninformed, directly threaten our national archival heritage and must be condemned in the strongest of terms.

We strongly urge the Government to take note of some of Dr. Rupesinghe’s key achievements over the last two years:

  1. Conceptualising the modernisation of the main building of the Department and commencing work on a billion-rupee contract to renovate and install central air cooling, fire security and advanced security systems.
  2. Drafting a legal deposit law to replace the archaic law from 1885 that is the oldest in the world and thereby upgrading the law to address modern-day needs.
  3. Planning the cleaning, repackaging and re-boxing of extensive archival collections into acid-free boxes in view of having to relocate the records due to the renovation of the building.
  4. Obtaining approval for schemes of recruitment that had not been approved for many years and holding interviews for key senior positions of supervision.

In recognition of the above, we call on the Government to immediately put an end to its attempts to remove Dr. Rupesinghe and instead to support her work. The Department and its staff must be allowed to exercise their professional duties without restriction and interference by government officials. We are of the opinion that under absolutely no circumstances should partisan interests influence the Government’s relationship with the Department, which is a permanent public institution, directly responsible for preserving the collective memory of our nation. This critical mission can be carried out only if the principles of professional excellence, integrity and ethical conduct are adhered to and protected.

We unreservedly stand in solidarity with Dr. Rupesinghe and request the Government to take necessary action to immediately rectify the current position.

SIGNATORIES

1. Dilum Alagiyawanna
2. Liyanage Amarakeerthi
3. Crystal Baines
4. Dr. Malathi de Alwis
5. Venerable Professor Mahinda Deegalle—Bath Spa University
6. Dr. Siran U. Deraniyagala—Retd. Director-General of Archaeology (1992-2001), Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka
7. Desamanya Vidya Jyothi Ashley de Vos
8. Visaka Dharmadasa
9. Geethika Dharmasinghe—PhD Candidate, Cornell University
10. Ruki Fernando
11. Sajini Fernando—Attorney-at-Law
12. Dr. Udan Fernando
13. Prof. Savitri Goonesekere
14. Sanjana Hattotuwa—Founding Editor, Groundviews.org
15. Samal Hemachandra
16. A. Jafferjee
17. Dr. Janaki Jayawardena—Dept. of History, University of Colombo
18. Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe—Author and Researcher
19. Anushka Kahandagamage, Reading for MPhil/PhD in Sociology, South Asian University, New Delhi
20. Dilkie Liyanage
21. S. Marcelline
22. Dr. Chinthaka Prageeth Meddegoda—University of Visual and Performing Arts
23. Nigel Nugawela—Archivist
24. Gananath Obeyesekere—Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
25. Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere—Retired Professor, Princeton University
26. Johann. A. Peiris
27. Iromi Perera
28. Deborah Philip
29. Harshana Rambukwella—Open University of Sri Lanka
30. Dr. Kavan Ratnatunga—Research Scientist
31. Dr. Michael Roberts—Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Adelaide
32. Dr. Sumanthri Samarawickrama
33. Dr. Jagath P. Senaratne
34. Mrs. K. Stephan
35. Sandun Thudugala—Social Activist
36. Tanuja Thurairajah
37. Praveen Tilakaratne
38. Thakshala Tissera
39. Senel Wanniarachchi
40. Jagath Weerasinghe—former Director, Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, and Director Archaeology, Sigiriya World Heritage Site of CCF
41. Shamara Wettimuny—University of Oxford
42. Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe—Leiden University
43. Subha Wijesiriwardena—Women and Media Collective
44. Mrs. P. Wimalaratne-van der Geest
45. Dr. Dileepa Witharana

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