Lack of adequate funds is hampering work at the Ministry of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages.
The Minister in charge, Mano Ganesan, said that the lack of funds for the subjects of national coexistence and official languages “scare” him.
The Ministry was established after the new government took office with the promise of ensuring the issues between the communities are addressed.
However, while addressing the issue of reconciliation, the government is bent on developing the country and boosting the economy.“The government needs to bring material successes to the podium urgently. So the ministries building bridges, houses, highways are prioritised. We are a developing nation. That’s understandable under the normal conditions. But we are just after a bloody war and started to build a new nation. The scars and suspicions are there. So the lack of funds for the subjects of national coexistence and official languages scare me. Therefore I am looking towards the international donor agencies who support cohesion, coexistence, reconciliation and language policy implementations in Sri Lanka,” the Minister said when asked by The Sunday Leader about the funding issue.
Ganesan’s ministry is critical because it handles two key subjects, coexistence and official languages, both interlinked.
The successful implementation of the official languages policy (OLP)
would be the preamble to ethnic coexistence and coexistence is the prelude to a political solution.
“While my colleagues build material infrastructures, I am building hearts and minds of the peoples. The basic truth is that, the material development will last only if the hearts and minds of the people are strongly placed within the national coexistence road map. Sinhala, Tamil and English languages have obtained references in the constitution of Sri Lanka. Constitutional clauses of Sri Lanka recognises Sinhala and Tamil as (i) official (ii) administrative (iii) national languages and English language as the Link language. That’s fine. But it remains only in the papers today,” Ganesan said.
This is the first time a trilingual minister has taken charge of the ministry and he is planning to implement the official languages policy with a new vigour.
That would make the Tamil speaking community confident. It would be a message of hope to the Tamils and all progressive people.
“The national question has two segments. It is the language issue and the power sharing issue. We are discussing the concept of power sharing. It is a continuous process to achieve national consensus. But the language policy has the relevant references already in the constitution. We have to make only certain minor modifications in the law books and go for the implementation. I am confident that even the friends in the so called joint opposition will support me on the official languages policy. Former minister of this subject my friend Vasudeva Nanayakkara is a stalwart in the opposition. But he is with me in this. The JVP is all out to support me in this subject. So we have a national consensus on the real time parity between Sinhala and Tamil languages and also to treat English as the link language as spelt in the constitution,” the Minister said.
Asked if the official language Policy of the State of Sri Lanka is a failed policy until now the Minister said that the policy has not failed but it is the implementation mechanism which has failed.
The current law prescribes the state employees on an all island blanket basis to learn the second official language after coming into the state services. Sinhala employees must learn Tamil and Tamil employees must learn Sinhala.
The year 2007 circular of the public administration ministry on the matter gave a five year period to the employees obtain efficiency in the second language. The efficiency is mandatory for incentives and promotions. But it was extended by another two years later and again by another two years now.
“Now some use various dubious methods to obtain the language efficiency certificates. Now almost ten years have passed since the first circular. They have to read, write, speak and understand the second language. But they are not doing this. If otherwise the Chief minister Wigneswaran would not complain. Similarly our children are put to learn the second national language at schools. Most don’t learn the second national language with motivation. But they learn other foreign languages with motivation. And also there is a shortage of 6,000 language teachers at schools. I can’t be a minister sitting at the ministry and keep dreaming of a trilingual new generation of Sri Lankans and a trilingual state service. I know under the current conditions it won’t happen. And the Tamil speaking people and leaders will keep on complaining. And common Tamils and Muslims would ask me that ‘if you cannot implement what is in law how on earth you are going to solve the power sharing subject by bringing new laws?’ Therefore the implementation mechanism has failed. I am reviving it,” he said.
Ganesan says his Ministry is planning to bring a few cabinet papers. There are 332 subdivisions of the administrative districts. They are divisional secretariat areas, within which 41 are officially declared as bilingual divisions as there are sizable numbers of Sinhala and Tamil speaking people living.
“I don’t believe in the all island blanket policy of bilingualism. That shall be anybody’s personal desire. But I plan to seek laws to the effect that all prospective state employees shall be bilingual before they take up jobs, at police offices, divisional secretariats, state health centers, local government legislatures etc located within all lawfully specified bilingual divisions. I look forward that it would come into force from next two years. Until then I plan to nominate translators and interpreters at such offices on a contract basis for two years. Such translators and interpreters would also be nominated at other state offices located in non-bilingual divisions too. It would serve the Tamil and also Sinhala speaking people who seek services at state offices anywhere in the island. This will also give motivation to the children at schools to learn the second national language as they have opportunities for state employment at bilingual divisions,” he said.
Ganesan wants to upgrade the National Institute of Language Educations and Training (NILET) into a Academy of National Languages.
He also plans to develop language teachers in the country. The teachers would be provided to the ministry of education.
“I have started discussions with the minister of education on this. We have a policy acceptance for a MoU. The teachers while teaching at schools can also go into the country and provide language tuition classes to the prospective and current state employees. And also to the private sector employees. The proposed academy also will produce translators and interpreters. It is the need of the hour. I also seek support for the two year scheme of contracted translators and interpreters. We require more modern language labs at out department of official languages to conduct language efficiency oral and hearing tests. We have already obtained support from the UNDP for this. We need to have more such labs at districts outside Colombo. I also plan to seek cabinet support for Tamil and Sinhala speaking benches at the courts so that the cases are heard in relevant languages.
I also plan to strengthen my ministry’s official languages commission to monitor and prosecute the official language policy violations in the state sector and also extend it the private sector. I am also very keen to develop English, the link language education to the commoners in a rapid manner,” he said.
Even in the coexistence concept Ganesgan’s Ministry requires support. The Minister is planning to open up 16 districts dialogue centers. These centers would be operated with the support and involvement of non-governmental organisations.
“The national secretariat for civil societies is under my ministry. I have given instructions to the newly appointed DG of the secretariat on this. I want the civil society as the partners in the coexistence road map. Already the NGO/INGO registration and visa processes are in the stage of revamping.
The district dialogue centers would be used to bring ethnic, religious, local legislative and all marginalised segments of the community together under the concept of discussions, sports, art, culture and social activities. The Sinhala, Tamil and English classes to the commoners and state and private employees at district levels are planned to be coordinated at these district centers,” he said.
During the period of (2001-2004) ceasefire by the peace accord between government and the LTTE in the pre-war era, the negotiations were mostly at the highest level between the political leaderships with the support of international community.
The efforts taken to educate the people at the ground level on the necessities for peace and coexistence were inadequate.
“Thus the people-to-people peace campaign was a nonstarter. The stakeholders failed to provide necessary patronage to the peace education. Extremist forces of both south and north took advantage of this situation to destroy the peace momentum. Peace talks were labeled as ‘sellout’ in the south and ‘peace strap’ in the north. Extremists of both south and north outmaneuvered peace when their distort campaign were not countered with an adequate coexistence campaign. We need to keep the commoners engaged in the dialogue at the bottom ground level. My ministry through the cabinet subcommittee on Sri Lankan Identity has formed two action committees. One is the national action committee of inter religions and other is national action committee of Artistes. We are now approaching the university student communities. I wanted to bring all such into dialogue and cohesion,” Ganesan explained.
The issue of bridging the language gap between the communities is moving forward but at a slow pace.
“I note a positive sense of realisation amidst the Sinhala and Tamil speaking communities. As I said above we need to start the real-time ground level activity of coexistence by bridging the language gap. It is the prelude. I have over 2,000 language societies registered at this ministry. I have transformed into coexistence societies with language and coexistence tasks given to them,” Ganesan added.
Ganesan is in talks with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to work together with her office wherever possible.
Ganesan is also a member of the Prime Minister’s action group on the Geneva resolution process. There are four pillars. Out of the four pillars, the truth commission, judicial process, reparations, non-recurrence, and Ganesan’s ministry is keen to take up the non-recurrence pillar.
To do all this Ganesan’s Ministry needs funds. And that is the issue at hand. Ganeshan says he has had discussions with some foreign donors to obtain assistance and agreements are expected to be signed soon. But at the moment that is not enough.
by Easwaran Rutnam / Sunday Leader