[lg policy] Sri Lanka: Implementation of language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 10 18:30:16 UTC 2012

Implementation of language policy

According to Chapter IV of the constitution of Democratic Socialist
Republic of Sri Lanka, Sinhala and Tamil are the Official Languages.
They are also called national languages. English is the link language.

Failure on the part of government institutions to comply with the
constitutional provisions, Cabinet directives and Public
Administration circulars relating the official languages have caused
immense inconvenience and hardship to the members of the public who
are not conversant with Sinhala and this amounts to the denial of the
Tamil speaking citizens their fundamental right.

Public services are the focus of implementation of Language Policy.
According to provisional estimate the total number of employees in
government institutions is about 1.3 million. The Tamil speaking state
employees is only 8.31 percent which is very much below their
population 26 percent in the country. 61 percent of the Tamil speaking
people are Tamils, Muslims and Tamils of recent Indian origin are
living in the Sinhalese area outside North East.

In terms of the language policy, it is a requirement that all name
boards, sign boards, direction boards, instruction displays etc in all
government and semi-government offices should be in all three
languages. But only about 40 percent of the government offices carry
name boards in all three languages. In every government institution
almost all the specified forms are available in one language only.

It was found that no establishment had requested funds from the
national budget or from the institutional budget for matters
pertaining to the implementation of the language policy.

The Bilingual Divisional Secretaries Divisions which have been
directed to use both official languages as languages of
administration, have so far failed to provide a satisfactory service
to those speaking the Tamil language. Mere direction that both Sinhala
and Tamil languages should be used as languages of administration of a
given Divisional Secretariat area is useless unless facilities for its
implementation are provided. This unsatisfactory situation needs to be
rectified. In the light of the above, the following overall
conclusions can be arrived at regarding the state of affairs
prevailing at present with regard to the implementation of the
language policy.

a. The degree of awareness among all categories of public servants,
corporation employees is very poor.

b. The awareness of the language rights among the concerned sections
of the general public is extremely poor and some are not even
concerned with their rights.

c. Many government/semi-government establishments do not even possess
the minimum resources to fulfill the needs for the implementation of
the language policy.

However, due to various reasons certain obstacles have arisen in
implementing the language policy. Hence the necessity of setting up
monitoring units in every government institution has arisen to
implement the constitutional and legal requirements in a satisfactory

The Official Languages Commission (OLC) was created in 1991 to
supervise and monitor the implementation of the official language
policy and to engage in activities connected with its promotion:

(i) The internal component which relates to the state employees
serving the respective institutions

(ii) The external component which relates to the members to the public
who interact with respective government institutions.

Over 20 years planned and sustained efforts have not been made for the
successful implementation of the language policy. This necessities the
drawing up a comprehensive project plan based on the present realities
and the problems that have to be surmounted. Such a plan should
stipulate a time-frame and clearly lay down stages and the
infrastructure facilities required.

The overall power of monitoring and supervisions of the implementation
of the language policy is with the Ministry of National Languages and
Social Integration and the Official Languages Commission as provided
by the Constitution and the Official Languages Commission Act No. 18
of 1991.


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