Tamil Language in Public Administration

| by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

( March 09, 2012, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write in response to the article ‘Tamil Language Rights in Sri Lanka Part II’ by Devanesan Nesiah published in Sri Lanka Guardian.
As per my reading, this part is about the recommendations to the changes in Official Language Policy by the team headed by Mr. Devanesan Nesiah.
Mr. Nesiah states ‘The recommendations dated 30 December 1998 include far reaching changes, most of which remain valid but unimplemented.’
Taking this at face value, I analyzed their validity through my direct current experiences.
The recommendation starts with the following passage:
“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”

Recruitment of translators, clerks and typists would ‘show’ greater use of Tamil language but would not necessarily improve Public Administration. When in Sri Lanka, I become user of Public Facilities – on ‘user pays’ basis – giving continuity to my status earned in Australia. An independent citizen uses Public Facilities by paying as per her/his acceptance of the stated price or her/his own assessment where no price/status is available at that time and place. Last year, we had the need to construct a toilet pit and as usual, we left it to the foreman in charge to ensure that the rules and regulations were followed. This particular foreman was chosen as the Trainer in Building Construction, by a Government Agency responsible for Home Construction. The local Public Health Inspector paid me a visit and said that they had received a complaint that the toilet-pit did not allow for the minimum distance from the well. I wrote as follows, in this regard, to the official in charge:

‘Toilet-Pit
These officers informed me that the toilet pit we had started digging was too close to the well (this was said AFTER they looked over the fence with our neighbor and confirmed that there was a toilet parallel to the spot where we were digging the toilet-pit.) The officers suggested that we moved our pit to adjoin the water tank. I pointed out that that was not private property any more. Then they said to move it 10 feet further along the same line. We did this even though this cost us extra. I personally checked as per the map I had – using the simple ruler I had at that time, that the end of the toilet pit was within our boundary. I informed the foreman to let me know if there was any notice from the authorities responsible advising us that we were trespassing.

The initial point at which we dug the pit was determined by the foreman – the same expert hired by the Government agency (I recall this to be NEHRP) to provide training to the youth of that area – in building construction. This confirmed our conclusion that he was the best person for that job in that area and left the building construction to him. If therefore he was wrong, then his training also would have been flawed – unless he was provided with further training by your office prior to the Training of others for which according to our understanding, funds were received from international agencies also.

One of your officers came over to inspect that we had moved the toilet–pit to be 40 feet away from the well. We did not hear any further from your officers about the toilet-pit. The end result was that we not only paid more than others for the toilet-pit, but also were seen to have ‘lost status’ with the Government Administrators. We ourselves did not in any way feel supported by your office.’
To me the resident practicing the highest standards is the First Citizen of an area. This is the Government Administrator until one who practices standards higher than those of the highest Government Administrator of the area, identified with. Those who practice above the level of Government Administrators are the real Governors. It was to give form to this in relation to Racial Equality here in Australia, that I took senior officials up to Prime Ministerial level, to Court – knowing very well that I was not likely to win. I saw it as my duty to next generation Australians of all races. This legal action has given form to my work and sacrifices in upholding Equal Opportunity values. I see that as being the parallel of what Mr. Nesiah is doing through this forum and what the Tamil Diaspora is doing through Western Governments and the UN. To the extent our work is genuine and is independent of external elements, the essential value of it would be carried through to future generations. What we do now through these actions is our ‘Will’. If we do not write our Wills, others who are seen to be physically close to us and/or are legally entitled to our status (through institutional positions) are likely to hijack our work – for better or for worse. So, write our Wills we Must – especially if we seek our values to go to those beyond our immediate physical circles and beyond those who are seen to be entitled to it as per the wider laws – many of which may not be applicable to us. That to me is like us doing our own last rites. All those who feel supported by our work would be honoring us and those are the ongoing memorial services to our work and therefore to us. Traditional Hindus perform such honoring ceremonies at least once a year. I perform them many times a day – each time I remember with appreciation the strength of my ancestors in family as well as in society and say ‘thank you’ from my heart.
Taking the above recommendations as Mr. Nesiah’s Will in relation to his status in Sri Lankan Public Service, I conclude that the officers who came to inspect our construction were of this recommended category of translators, clerks and typists. Those who know the substance at the depth required to service the Public of an area – would easily find the translation. Members of the Public who are in need or have strong desire for the Service being provided – would find translators. If the work of Diaspora Tamils is to be included Tamil Administrators would need to widen their understanding of the issues. Likewise, every area where International Funds are being used. They need to show the same enthusiasm as that shown by those in their area, who seek to go overseas for employment. That is when we who are citizens of countries that provide the funds would feel valued. If the private citizen is investing more and more in foreign education, Public Service in that area would need to include problems and opportunities arising from this in their work. Genuine service providers would find little difficulty in flexing themselves to accommodate global values.
In mid 1999, after the above recommendations were released, the following was released in relation to PROVINCIAL PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION (P.P.S.C):
The P.P.S.C Secretariat is functioning under the supervision of the Secretary of the PPSC
Who is a Who is a Senior class I.S.L.A. officer. The P.P.S.C. Secretariat attends to the following functions…………….Promotion of staff grade officers. Granting of service extension to staff officers; Granting approval for retirement……… Conduct of Examinations for recruitment of officers, conducting Efficiency Bar Examinations and Promotion Exams to all category of officers.
During my recent visit, I came across a victim of the above actions who was/is struggling many years after the event, to ensure that the correct record of HER work in Public Service is recorded. This lady who is well known in her local Vaddukoddai area says in her communication to the authorities in relation to the Efficiency Bar (EB) Exam :
‘I passed the EB exam held for Project Officers in June , 1999. It is worth mentioning here that I was the only officer in Jaffna District who passed the said exam…… From the time I passed the EB examination until my retirement, I was expecting a promotion presuming it was delayed by the system as usual. ……..The time I expected the promotion to come through most strongly was when all the other Project Officers were promoted as Assistant Directors of Planning 11/11 on 1999,September,22nd, with a new salary scale of 97,500 – 15 x 2,700 – 138,000, and the letters of appointment were handed over by the Line Ministry on 2001, January 22nd. These were issued in accordance with the approval of Cabinet on 1999,September,22nd.
I would like to bring to your kind notice that as part of the group of 56 Project Officers , I too was covered by the above decision, approved by the Cabinet. I submit that given that I had passed the EB exam, I ought to have been given priority status during the change over to be placed as ADP 11/11. Instead I have been left behind for having achieved more than others in the group’
The above to my mind is strongly indicative of the problems within Public Administration in Jaffna. To some this may be ‘accidental’. My wisdom in Public Administration says otherwise. The victim is continuing to fight to preserve the value of her work and status through the same Public Administrative system. The longer we feel the pain, the deeper our investment. Taken laterally, it is also the case of majority independent staff and customers of the Public Service in Jaffna area.
My questions are:
1. How would the Trilingual Policy based on which the recommendations were made by Mr. Nesiah’s team address these fundamental ‘attitude’ problems of Tamil Public Administrators ?
2. How would the work of the Diaspora Tamils especially in relation to issues raised by the LLRC and the UNHRC members, be integrated with the work of Tamil Administration in Sri Lanka?
The Trilingual Policy may help Sinhalese play catch-up. We Tamils want to leap-forward.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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