Interview with the Minister of Culture, Arts, and Heritage

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This post was written by Marybeth Ramey

Marybeth Ramey: What is the logic in separating the Tourism Ministry from Culture, Arts, and Heritage?

Datuk Rais:The basic idea is to allow culture develop on its own without being propped too much by tourism. Tourism is now on its own, though it is still substantially linked to Culture, Arts, and Heritage. The Government is of the view that Culture has to be compositely on its own, without having to be hinged too much to tourism. To house Tourism, Culture, Arts and Heritage together has proven to be too heavy for a Ministry. Tourism has tended to overshadow culture in the former set-up. Moreover the ‘marriage’ between Tourism and Culture is seen to be preponderantly commercial gearing. Culture as a way of life to a people is harnessed separately with all its attributes, so that there could be more research and development thrown in. Tourism will continue to be close to Culture in that the former needs to use Culture as a baseline of attracting visitors the country. The endeavour is to avoid culture that is too affected by Tourism. Or, if you like, ‘touristic culture’ could be minimised.

Marybeth Ramey: You have conceived and developed the Heritage Bill. What do you want to see with its passage into law?

Datuk Rais: We have had no proper law on heritage all this while. What we have now is a hotch-potch version of what heritage is. What is provided in the Antiquities Act 1976 and the Treasure Trove Ordinance 1957 hardly suffice as a working and practical heritage law. Moreover, hitherto heritage has been largely a matter for the States while the Federal sector has little supervisory role. Two months ago the Malaysian Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that allows Heritage to take centre stage. Our proposed law on heritage is now in its final draft and should be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat soon. It mainly deals with promotional and development efforts while putting a premium on preservation and research. Under the new proposal there will be a National Heritage Trust, a National Heritage Fund, State-Federal cooperation scheme, tangible and intangible heritage demarcation and treatment. There is an array of terms and arrangement that will foster better development and preservation of Malaysian heritage. We will also provide for the recognition of the men as creators of heritage artefacts: musicians, artists, and quintessential craftsmen represent some of the human attributes of heritage, and the new law will also cover them.

Marybeth Ramey: You have also been a vocal proponent insisting that environmental issues play an important role in your portfolio. Please comment.

Datuk Rais: We also provide for the inclusion of the environment as an element of Heritage. The environmental onslaught, which of late has seen a field day venture for township and housing developers, is very high in our concern list. The incident in Taman Bukit Cerakah in Selangor is just one iota of the many incidents of environmental rape. There are many more. These are natural heritage areas for which Malaysians have been robbed of their rights. The rivers, streams, the mountains, the islands – all these and many more that are so much part of us need concern and increased supervision. Wherever pertinent the requisite law will provide for effective enforcement. Having the law is one thing. Enforcing it effectively is another. I intend to bring the full measure of the law in respect of environmental control when the Act is in full operation.

Marybeth Ramey: When you became Minister of Culture, Arts, and Heritage, what were the two or three most important goals you wanted to progress toward?

Datuk Rais: At first it was indeed rather perplexing – I mean a through-and-through law man doing culture! Actually, I was doing the culture portfolio way back in 1974 when the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah and I were then in the Culture Youth and Sports Ministry. My present portfolio is truly a revisit. Being quite familiar on my new turf, I think I will try to achieve what I started to do in 1974: to turn KL into a vibrant cultural and arts centre. Activate cultural activities, create the necessary ambience; bring music and the performing arts to the Felda schemes and kampungs. Harmonise the communities through culture and the arts. Infuse and enthuse Malaysians and expats with traditional culture and music. Enliven the theatre. The people will never be fully entwined with slogans and chantings alone. At the same time we have been too developmentorientated without giving culture and the arts a break. In short, we would like to fuse more culture and the arts in our lives. I know that’s easier said than done. But the ‘Malaysia boleh’ in us could make things tick.

Marybeth Ramey: How can expats contribute to your efforts?


Datuk Rais: Tell us how you feel about Malaysian culture; tell us how we could improve things Malaysian. Tell how they treat you at the galleries, restaurants, clubs, resorts, theatre, etc. Tell us where we ought to do more.

Source: The Expat April 2004
This article has been edited for

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