The Case of District Administration in Amparai, Sri Lanka
by Mohammad Agus Yusoff, Athambawa Sarjoon, Nordin Hussin & Azmi Awang, Public Administration Research; Canada, Vol. 4, No. 2; October 2015 ISSN 1927-517x E-ISSN 1927-5188
Even though minorities have gained international linguistic recognition, accepting and admitting minority languages in public affairs has been a contested issue in many countries. In Sri Lanka, the admitting of minority language — specifically Tamil — in public administration has continued to be a serious issue imposing a number of difficulties on Tamil-speaking minorities, although Tamil is legally recognized as an official language. The district administration of Amparai in the eastern province is a severe case where Tamil has been marginalized in the district’s administrative affairs, violating the constitutional recognition of conducting public administration in Tamil in the north-eastern region. The major objective of this study is to examine the nature and extent of Tamillanguage admission in the district administration of Amparai. The findings of this study revealed that the violation of constitutional provisions and administrative circulars on admitting the Tamil language in district administration has not only led to the domination of the Sinhala language and the Sinhalese in this district’s administration, but also has induced the Tamil-speakers of this district to demand and advocate for a new administrative district within the district for their administrative easiness. This research suggests that proper implementation of Tamil language provisions and institutional restructuring at the district secretariat level would help to reconcile the linguistic issues facing by Tamil-speakers in the district. This case study incorporates both primary and secondary data collected from different sources, and is presented through descriptive and interpretative analysis….
In the case of Sri Lanka, successive governments and bureaucracies as well as their administrative agencies and processes were expected to give reality to the anticipated fruits of independence and liberty, but they failed in all aspects due to their lack of policies in accommodating the rights, interests, and claims of the minorities. In a pluralist societal context, public administration needs more policy reforms and institutional modernity in order not only to adopt new trends in public and development administration, but also to accommodate the rights and interests of different groups of people – especially those of ethno-linguistic minorities – at different levels of administration. Reorganizing local governmental and administrative units to adequately meet the needs of minorities and providing differentiated structures of self-governed administration are some of the mechanisms that the government can implement to protect and promote the rights of the minorities within administrative machinery. It is an unquestionable fact that the proper implementation of any legislation, act, or provision cannot be fulfilled without the proper institutional arrangements and the fullest willingness and commitment of all the officials involved. This fact is obvious in the matter of administering Tamil as an equal language to Sinhala in SriLanka.
When the legitimate concerns of minorities regarding their language use in public affairs are accommodated,tensions are greatly reduced. If the majority-language is promoted in public life at the expense of minorities, this can be a considerable source of minority grievance and lead to majority-minority inter ethnic tension. This was the case in the administration of the Amparai district. Right from the inception of the district, the linguistic rights and interests of Tamil-speakers who formed the majority in the district’s population were marginalized by the domination of the Sinhalese language (Sinhala). This resulted in a number of administrative burdens to the Tamil-speakers. The continuous negligence of their grievances and demands consequently induced them to demand and advocate for a separate administrative (institutional) set up for their administrative easiness.
Minority rights and interests are not only linked to linguistic and cultural matters. A high level of autonomy in all public sectors, especially in the administration of local affairs where minority groups live predominantly is essential to the protection of linguistic identity and to the management of public functions in a self-determined manner. As far as the issue of competency is concerned, the district administrative system in Amparai not only failed to consider minority-specific issues as important (e.g. language use), but also failed to approach these issues in a holistic way, accommodating them only in promoting self-government generally, including through the establishment of a specialized administrative institutional arrangement. If these shortcomings are fulfilled,the linguistic grievances of the Tamil-speaking minorities in the Amparai district could be appeased. Policy reforms and institutional restructuring are highly needed in this regard.