Having said that, I want to raise the question why the police gave a statement to the Courts that artefacts worth over Rs. 40 mn (I am subject to correction on these figures) had been robbed. Besides, the Police had given an inventory of the items lost. I would like to point to the blatant contradiction this Police submission raises in filing such a report in Court, when the directress in charge says nothing of value, but fakes had been lost. In the interest of the country and the correct legal process, shouldn’t the directress be ordered to make an explanation to Court?
The other point is, how the police had information of the items lost and their worth in (modern value), without the help of the directress. Is the directress guilty of releasing false information to the media (Norman Palihawadana’s report in The Island of March 22, 2012)? Really, something is very fishy here! As Edward asked, is the directress trying to protect someone? He thought of museum staff, but isn’t the onus very much on her for the lack of security, particularly when the surveillance cameras had gone out of function? Others are suggesting the involvement of a political hand. The circumstances led to many questions and deserve investigation by a Public Commission, in addition to the legal process.
I am personally interested in this matter, not only as a researcher, but as one who in my former capacity as Sri Lanka‘s representative at UNESCO, joined the campaign for the restitution of cultural properties stolen and taken away by other countries during wars and the colonial phase. That was when the GoSL was not interested in the matter. I became the spokesperson for other countries like Africa and the Arab world during the sessions of the committee, which was appointed by UNESCO and the General Conferences.
Perhaps, the JRJ government was right in thinking that our patrimony was safer in the hands of other countries. That was what was whispered to me by my friend the late Esmond Wickremesinghe, who was the Vice President of the Sri Lanka National Commission to UNESCO, at the time.
It was just the other day that I visited the Museum Library through the recently wide opened backyard from Ananda Coomarswamy Mawatha from which anyone could stroll into the museum compound. I remarked to a Library Assistant, on seeing an Ola Mss. of ‘Rasavahini’ being brought out for perusal by a Peradeniya University academic, how safely such Mss. were guarded and protected at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. There I found a copy of an Ola Mss. of a work by Ven. TotagamuweRahula, kept in the high security room of the library with bullet proof glass walls and the work itself kept in a glass case which was unlocked for me and taken out as if we would handle a Dhatu-karanduwa at a Buddhist temple. That is the nature of security even for an Ola Mss. Here our National Museum Library remains without air-conditioning, and shelves covered with dust as I pointed out to the member of staff.
It was clear to anyone that security at the museum was inadequate. One knows how much security is provided in France even at small museums, each room equipped with surveillance equipment, but also security staff.
Another foolish move reported in the media was to transfer all valuable finds in site museums to the National Museum. Maybe to hide the originals somewhere as the directress has done in the case of recently lost items. It is true that there is a problem of providing security – the former Director of The National Museum, Dr. P. H. D. De Silva wrote about a loss of a valuable Kotte era sword from the Museum at Kotte and I wrote about it - but for that reason alone objects should not be transferred to the National Museum.
What of tourism, which we are trying to promote? Site Museums at Polonnaruwa and at Sigiriya are a pride to the country and serve to attract tourists. We spent much resources and effort to improve the site museums and build new ones at Sigiriya under the Cultural Triangle Project, I initiated with UNESCO, during my time there.
I would expect this issue to be raised in Parliament as a matter of national interest for debate, especially over the contradictions arising from the museum directress’s statement. Isn’t it of the same importance as the ‘White Flag’ issue?
Bandu de Silva.