Traditional Instrument Tenders: Middlemen benefit while Manufacturers disadvantaged
By Eunice Ruth And Udara Madushanka
The Kandyan and low country dances have a long and remarkable history and everyone can experience their beauty during various festival, processions and other cultural activities. In all these cultural dances, many traditional musical instruments such as drums and tambourines are used. From then, till now, these traditional musical instruments were made by traditional artisans and there are several Districts and villages famous for manufacturing these instruments.
Matara, Kandy, Minuwangoda and Alawala in the Gampaha District are recognised as the original production villages of these instruments. However, with current technological developments, the lives of these traditional artisans have changed with no earnings and no demand for such instruments. Rohana Wijesinghe, a resident of Alawala in Gampaha District, who was a traditional instrument maker, said that, four generations of his family engaged in manufacturing these instruments and they are also very famous for teaching rituals like Yaga Homa.
Because of this, they got used to producing the instruments they needed for the job. That is how we inherited this industry, he said. He said they produce a number of different local musical instruments such as drums, Dolki, Raban and many others. There were about 10 families in his village who used to manufacture and produce these instruments. However, currently only five families are continuing to work in this industry, he added. He pointed out that other instrument manufacturing villages were experiencing similar problems. “If this situation continues, there will be no future for these instruments and no one to continue the cultural values of the country,” he said. The biggest problem which they are currently facing is not having a proper way to sell their finished goods.
Even though there is a demand for our products during the festival seasons, we have no proper way to sell our products, he continued. School and art institutions buy these in large numbers. However, they buy them through tenders and companies. Unfortunately, no one is ready to buy from us. “We small scale manufactures are not wealthy enough to sell our goods through tenders. Even banks won’t provide us loans. Companies expect us to produce 800 to 1,000 instruments within a period of three months which is impractical. Making instruments with proper standards and cultural values need enough of time and producing a large quantity within a small period of time is impossible,” he said. He said the people who are awarded these tenders are wealthy businessmen and they don’t even have the knowledge regarding the manufacturing process. In fact, they do not even recognise the left and right side of a drum.
These businessmen buy our goods from us for a low rate and sell it to the Government at a higher price. If they give us Rs 7,000 for a drum they will sell it at Rs 13,000 and make a profit of Rs 6,000. He stated that with the low profits they earn for each instrument, they are unable to produce high quality instruments. “If the organisations directly buy from us under a formal system, then high quality instruments can be sold at a lower price.
We also need some profit from doing this business just to lead our day to day lives. It will benefit both the manufacturer and supplier,” said Wijesinghe. W. A. Premadasa, another manufacturer from the same village, said he was producing instruments for more than 40 years and it had a good demand earlier. However, after the tender scam, we are unable to make any profits and it is the middlemen who profit from our products. Since it is difficult to make and sell new instruments, I mostly repair broken musical instruments to earn some money. I got several orders from art institutes and schools. However, due to COVID-19 it was all cancelled and currently I’m leading a very difficult life, he added.
He further said that, even though the goods of those institutions have been repaired by me, we are unable to sell new goods to them. The reason for this is the heads of these institutions are not allowed to buy goods from outsiders and are forced to follow the tender process. Due to this, even the musical instruments which are required for our own village school should be supplied through intermediaries. Sampath Udaya Kumara, a resident of Veyangoda, said that many of his musical instruments were piled up at home as they could not be sold.
Also, he said that they have not received any help from the Government and they requested the Government to make them a way to sell their products directly to the customer without having intermediaries. Speaking in this regard to the Regional Director of Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Western Province, Vindika Piyarathna, said that, the Government can help them only after registering themselves under the Government. They should register themselves first to sell their instruments directly to the customer without middlemen. They can register their businesses in two ways. The manufacturers can register themselves under Divisional Secretariat and if they wish to continue it as a specific industry then should get register under the Department of Business Registration. After registering under the Government, they can directly sell it to the customer and also they will be eligible to get Government facilities and incentive in developing their business.