Tamil Language Rights in Sri Lanka – Part II



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By Devanesan Nesiah


Part I of this article appeared in the


Midweek Review yesterday


This part consists of Recommendations made over 13 years ago to the Official Language Commission (OLC) by a team headed by the writer and appointed by the OLC to conduct an Audit on the Use of Tamil as an Official Language in provinces outside the NorthEast. Although the Audit did not research the North or East, the Recommendations relate to the whole Island and include the use of Sinhala in the North and East. The recommendations dated 30 December 1998 include far reaching changes, most of which remain valid but unimplemented. For this reason they are reproduced unchanged:


RECOMMENDATIONS


If the administration is to meet the needs of the Tamil speaking people, there should be a sufficient number of Tamil proficient officials in state institutions and corporations. The officials needed will be translators, clerks, typists and others as well as departmental grades, such as police personnel at all at levels. Recruitment of adequate numbers of Tamil speaking staff is essential. But this cannot be done overnight. The team realises that immediate, short term and long term measures are needed.


The first urgent need is a consensus between the Ministry of Public Administration, Ministry of Finance & Planning, Salaries and Cadre Committee and the Official Languages Commission on the immediate, short term and long term measures needed to implement Tamil as an Official Language. Based on our language audit, we have formulated following proposals for consideration.


Immediate Measures


(to be taken within the next few weeks)


(a) Identify constraints like lack of equipment, documents etc, and take immediate measures to purchase the equipment needed, print the documents, etc, using available funds or savings under other items in the budget.


(b) Convert all monolingual and bilingual name and direction boards into trilingual name and direction boards. The cost of doing this will be minimal and it is unlikely that any additional resources will need to be allocated for this exercise.


(c) Withdraw all forms in the Department that are not trilingual, destroy them and have the forms printed by the Government Printer in all three languages on the same paper. The Government printer should be asked to give top priority to this work.


(d) Instruct all public servants to comply with Government policy in regard to the use of the national languages, particularly reminding them of widespread failure to implement Tamil as an official language.


(e) A circular setting out the language policy of the government in relation to the use of Tamil may be jointly drafted by the Ministry of Public Administration and the Official Languages Commission, and circulated to all offices and sub-offices. The Circular should detail the obligations of the public servants in relation dealings with Tamil speaking persons.


Short Term Measures


(to be taken during the course of the year 1999)


(a) Identify the departments and the service grades that need fresh recruitment of Tamil speaking officers to enable full implementation of the languages policy of the Government. This Identification may be done by the Ministry of Public Administration in consultation with the Official Languages Commission within a three or four month’s time frame.


(b) The Official Languages Commission could seek government approval for the special recruitment of the required numbers of Tamil speaking cadres. The new appointment may be set off against existing vacancies and, if there are not enough vacancies additional posts could be created on the understanding that other recruitment would be suspended till the excess disappears through natural wastage.


(c) Thereafter the Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration could call for applications from suitable candidates, specifying the special Tamil Languages provisions required in respect of oral, reading and writing skills at the point of recruitment. In this recruitment, preference should be given to those with skills in a second or third language.


(d) The Ministry of Public Administration should post the officers according to the needs of each Department. The Official Languages Commission should, before postings are made, be consulted in working out the rules governing language competency in the respective offices. It should be possible to complete this process and make necessary appointments within 1999.


(e) Training programmes in Sinhala, Tamil and English should be initiated island to enable all categories of officers to gain proficiency in at least two and, if possible, all three languages.


(f) All induction and selected training courses should incorporate modules relating to the language policy of the state and awareness of relevant provisions of the Constitution.


(g) Public awareness should be built up of the right of every person to transact business with any government office in any part of the Island in Sinhala, Tamil or English, and of the obligation cast on the offices and officers concerned to provide such services including replying letters in the language used by the writer and issuing any extract or translation of any record, registration, publication or other document in the language chosen by the applicant.


(h) In order to motivate officers to gain proficiency in all three languages, a new incentive scheme should he introduced consisting of fixed sums on passing the relevant examinations and a monthly allowance for using the additional language in day to day work. The incentive allowance must be paid only to those officers who work, in addition to their normal duties, in a language other than their first language. There should be a strict check on this payment and appropriate norms should be established. Those who draw the monthly allowance should be available for posting outstation as required.


(i) After providing the staff, there should be periodic monitoring. Due consideration should be given to public complaints. The Official Languages Commission should bring to the notice of the President any shortcomings or any lethargic attitude in any Ministry/Dept. for action that the President may deem fit.


(j) Presidential directions may be made as appropriate under Section 22 (1) of the Constitution, introduced through the Sixteenth Amendment, which reads as follows:


"Sinhala and Tamil shall be languages of administration throughout Sri Lanka and Sinhala shall be the language of administration and be used for maintenance of public records and the transaction of all business by public institutions of the provinces of Sri Lanka other than Northern and Eastern Provinces where Tamil shall be used".


"Provided that the President may, having regard to the proportion which the Sinhala or Tamil linguistic minority population in any unit comprising a division of an Assistant Ciovernment Agent bears to the total of population of that area, direct that both Sinhala and Tamil or a language other than the language used as the language of administration in the province in which such area may be situated be the languages of administration for such area".


It is noted that both Sinhala and Tamil are languages of administration throughout Sri Lanka but only one language or the other may be the language of public record in a particular province unless there is a Presidential declaration to the contrary. It is suggested that early action should be taken under the above paragraph to proclaim the appropriate areas in which a second or third language should also be used as languages of public record so that effective strategies for implementation of the official languages policy of the Government can be worked out. It is suggested that in any province in which the language of administration and public record is Sinhala, Tamil is declared as an additional language of administration and public record in those A.G.A.dvisions of the province in which the proportion of Tamil speaking persons is not less than 12 1/2 percent and, likewise, in any province in which the language of administration and public record is Tamil, Sinhala is declared as an additional language of administration and public record in those A.G.A. Advisions of the province in which the proportion of Sinhalese is not less than 12 ½ percent.


Long Term Measures


The team has not visited any offices in the North East or in the Central, North Central or Southern Provinces, and is not in a position to report in respect of these regions. Our survey has covered many offices in the Western, North Western, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces. A consistent pattern has emerged of glaring lack of Tamil language proficiency in virtually every office audited at all levels, although many of those offices serve populations of which very substantial proportions are Tamil speaking.


The highest priority should be given to correcting oral, reading and writing language deficiencies. Unless this is done, the legal requirements in respect of using the Tamil language in administration cannot be met. It is essential that the specific language capacity of each unit of the public services must be such as to meet the needs of the population in the language medium they are most comfortable with.


While all citizens have the same rights in all parts of the Island, it may not be pragmatic seek to ensure that every office in every A.G.A. divisions has the same level of competency in all three languages. Most offices may have Sinhala or Tamil as the language of official record; many may have both; a few may have English too. But all offices need to have minimum competency to transact office business in all three languages. We therefore make certain proposals below to ensure that these requirements could be met.


It is suggested that the various A.G.A. divisions may be categorized in terms of the language composition of the population as follows:


(i) Not less than 87 ½ % Sinhala speaking


(ii) Not less than 87 ½ % Tamil speaking


(iii) Not less than 50 % Sinhala speaking and not less than 12 ½ % Tamil speaking


(iv) Not less than 50 % Tamil speaking and not less than 12 ½ % Sinhala speaking


Norms may be prescribed in respect of each A.G.A. division above to determine the minimum requirement of cadres classified in terms of language proficiency as follows:


(1) Officers fully proficient and who can correspond in Sinhala (this will comprise mostly but not exclusively those whose mother tongue is Sinhala; a special high level proficiency examination could be prescribed for those whose mother tongue is not Sinhala)


(2) Officers fully proficient and who can correspond in Tamil (this will comprise mostly but not exclusively those whose mother tongue is Tamil; a special high level proficiency examination could be prescribed for those whose mother tongue is not Tamil)


(3) Officers fully proficient and who can correspond in English (a high level proficiency examination could be prescribed for this purpose)


(4) Officers who have passed the prescribed proficiency examinations in Sinhala other than the special high level examination referred to in (1) above. (this will comprise mostly those whose mother tongue is Tamil)(5) Officers who have passed the prescribed proficiency examinations in Tamil other than the special high level examination referred to in (2) above. (this will comprise mostly those whose mother tongue is Sinhala)


(6) Officers not included in (3) above but with minimum proficiency in English (Proficiency examinations could be prescribed for this purpose)


It is suggested that every A.G.A. division classified under (i) should have staff in all cadre grades of at least 50% of (1), 10% of (2), 10% of (3) and 15% of (5). All the divisions of Colombo district excluding the Colombo AGA divisions would fall into this category, and would require a minimum 10% Tamil speaking staff to meet the recommended norm.


Similarly every A.G.A. division classified under (ii) should have staff in all cadre grades of at least 50% of (2), 10% of (1), 10% of (3) and 15% of (4). All the divisions of Batticaloa district would fall into the category and would require a minimum of 10% Sinhala speaking staff to meet the recommended norm.


It is proposed that every A.G.A. division classified under (iii) should have staff in all cadre grades of at least 50% of (1), 25% of (2) and 10% of (3). Colombo AGA division would fall into this category and would require a minimum of 25% Tamil speaking staff to meet the recommended norm.


Likewise, every A.G.A. division classified under (iv) should have staff in all cadre grade at least 50% of (2), 25% of (1) and 10% of (3). Nuwara Eliya AGA division would fall this category and would require a minimum of 50% Tamil speaking staff to meet the recommended norm.


Perhaps similar norms may be prescribed in respect of each Municipal and Urban Council administration based on the linguistic composition of the population within the Council limits.


In addition, there may be particular institutions that may require high proficiency in English and for which enhanced minimum proportions of categories (3) and (6) could be prescribed as required. The total numbers of Tamil speaking cadres required to meet the above norms are well within the numbers that would have been available if the principle of proportional recruitment set out in the relevant Public Administration circulars had been followed. Recruitment policies that ensure adequate language competencies in Sinhala, and English would be compatible with the principle of proportional recruitment.


To supplement cadre recruitment designed to achieve the desired language balance, language training programmes should be strengthened and expanded to enable larger numbers greater proficiency in a second and, preferably, a third language. In fact the Ministry of Defense has initiated 12 weeks residential training programmes in Kotmale and Gampaha for police and armed forces personnel. Such programmes are long overdue and should be extended to all grades of the public service. However it must be kept in mind that while training could boost the numbers in categories (4), (5) and (6) above, and services public could be improved thereby, the impact of such training on expanding categories (2) and (3) will be slow and negligible.


There must be no misconception that language training could be a substitute for recruiting adequate numbers of officers full proficient in respect of oral, reading and writing the different languages; there is no alternative to providing for the appropriate balanced language skills at the point of intake. The language composition of all new recruits should be such as to move towards fully meeting all aspects of language competency (oral, and writing) in all units of the public services within five years. The schemes of recruitment should be such as to give additional weight to those with skills in a second or third language.


Implementation and Monitoring


Remedial measures, however comprehensive, may not yield the disired results without an effective implementation and monitoring system, backed by political will. Our findings suggest that, by and large the problems arise less from defects in the legislative provision (though some of the Articles of the Constitution appear to contain ambiguities/contradictions, notably Articles 22(1) and 24(1), and more from neglect in implementation, monitoring and enforcement at various levels.


It is proposed that the Official Languages Commission should be empowered to give directions to all state institutions in matters relating to the implementation of the laws and regulations and state policy in respect of the status and use of Sinhala, Tamil and English in all official mattters. The Official Languages Commission should work out a monitoring system based on periodic reports received from all state institutions through the respective Ministries. The Chairman, Official Languages Commission should be required to prepare an Annual Report on progress in respect of all three languages.


In addition, it is recommended that there should, for the next five years, be an annual Tamil Language Audit conducted by an organization outside the public services commissioned to review the status of the Tamil language in the seven provinces outside the North East on the basis of sample surveys. This report should be submitted to the Chairman, Official Languages Commission who should forward it together with his observations, the Official Languages Commission report referred to in the paragraph above, and his recommendations for corrective action to Her Excellency the President.


Part III will appear tomorrow


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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