By Anushka Kahandagama –
The recent incident sending a letter by Minister Lakshman Kiriella to the head of the Department, Political Science, University of Kelaniya has become a widely discussed issue in the media. The Minister’s act should be decried and no doubt it is an effort to politicize the University system. However, bold statements of ‘politicization’ would never help to transform the system positively. Wide and deep discussion should be brought out in order to understand the situation and de-politicize the university system.
Lakshman Kiriella, Minister of Higher Education and Highways, has not only sent a letter but also interpreted the article 19 of the University Act, ‘The Minister shall be responsible for the general direction of university education and the administration of this Act’ and justified his act. Former President of the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri stated that, interpreting article 19 of the university act, which reads as ‘The Minister shall be responsible for the general direction of university education and the administration of this Act, was completely hilarious. If you interpret it in the way the minister has interpreted it, then the minister is capable of anything. This justification is even more dangerous than the letter itself’. As Dr. Dewasiri stated the interpretation of the University Act might be problematic and hilarious, but if the article is misinterpreted, case should be brought to the courts and the article needs to be clarified as the power to clarify the article does not rest on Dr. Dewasiri. In that way, the statement of Dr. Dewasiri can be interpreted as ‘politicizing’ the ‘interpretation’ of the University Act by using his ‘knowledge’ and position he holds as a lecturer at the University. A clear clarification of the article through a legal process would prevent future political interferences and politicization of the university system.
On the other hand, according to Mr. Kiriella’s media statement, ‘“it’s no secret that certain members belonging to the hierarchy of universities went to the extent of even taking part in television debates in their attempt to defeat Maithripala Sirisena. But, despite engaging in politics, steps were not taken to remove them from their positions. If they acted in accordance to their conscience, they should have ideally resigned from their positions themselves. Instead, they sought sympathy from the ‘yahapalana’ government, but engage in conspiring and also releasing letters sent by the minister to the media.”
The statement of the minister suggests that, if a person has a different political opinion, that person should be removed from the position, and if that person have a sense of ‘shame’ he/she should resign from their positions. This statement is highly problematic as it suggests that people are not allowed to have a political opinion and express it openly and different opinion holders should be removed from the system.
However, there is another side to the problem other than accusing Mr. Kiriella as the first and only person who is responsible for politicizing University system. Discourse created around Lakshman Kiriella’s incident suggests that, the political interference can be done only by ‘politicians’ which is not true. Any form of inappropriate interference is ‘political interference’. The University system in Sri Lanka is highly politicized with sexual bribes, favourations and other forms of inappropriate acts. However, these inappropriate acts are known by everyone but are no action is being taken due to many reasons. There should be a proper mechanism to trace these forms of politicizations and reduce it as much as possible. As a body which acts against politicization of University system, FUTA should also take actions to solve inner political matters that prevail in the University system. Inappropriate political interference to any entity should be prevented and discouraged, but the word ‘politicization’ should be interpreted beyond already set limits.