I am pleased to mention at first that during last year, as the minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages, I had the opportunity to closely study and have a comprehensive understanding of the subject of official languages as well as the subjects of coexistence and dialogue. I am entrusted with the duty of uniting all people such as those belonging to different ethnic communities, speaking different languages and those belonging to different religions – all living under the Sri Lankan identity. This unity itself is called national coexistence. Mainly, there are three languages in use among the people of this country and there exist four religions and around twenty ethnic groups. This is diversity. Therefore, this diversity is not our weakness but our strength. We have founded our vision on this ideology. Meanwhile, the dialogue is an equally important element. In the past, the means of our relationship were the gun, the pistol or the violence. In this period, we have left no room for such means and have swept them away, under the guidance of HE the president and Hon. Prime Minister. Thus, the dialogue means arriving at a solution, through the means of discussion, for any issue currently existing under this sun and the moon.

The Official Languages Policy also bears an equal importance. According to the present Constitution, Sinhala and Tamil are official languages and English is the link language. Therefore, it should be clearly declare that English is no foreign language anylonger and it has gained recognition as a local language. Thus, it has become my duty to facilitate teaching the official languages to the younger generation of this country, especially, Sinhala to the Tamil people and Tamil to Sinhala people and English to all citizens of the country in common. It is further my duty to provide a professional English education with a view to providing an English education at a higher level than the teaching of English at school level. Why? it is because English has been recognized by the Constitution as a link language between the different ethnic communities living in this country. English education opens the door to the world. There were some politicians in this country who called on the people to disregard the English language and learn only the mother tongue, but the same politicians sent their children abroad and gave the English education. That era is no more now.  Our present leaders, the President and the Prime Minister are long-sighted and hold no such views.

Thus, their attention is focused not on next election but on the well-being of the future generation. My vision regarding the Official Languages Policy for the year 2017 is that “By implementing the Official Languages Policy, it should be used as a preface to a solution for the national issue”. Therefore, we are engaged in carrying out a series of special programmes around the country with a view to arriving at solutions for the problems through the means of dialogue between the ethnic communities and the religions, and thereby broadening the public understanding of arriving at solutions through such means.

Even in the past, there were some efforts to see an end of the national problem of this country. In 1956, prime minister Bandaranayake and the Tamil leader Mr.Chelvanayagam, in 1960s, prime minister Dudley Senanayake, and thereafter, president J.R.Jayawardene as well as president R.Premadasa made such efforts. President Chandrika Kumaratunge, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinge and finally, the ex-president Mahinda Rajapakse as well had talks. Some of those dialogues were successful while the others were not. The reason for failure of such talks is that although they had talks at the higher level, the people at the grass root level had no clear idea of such talks. Taking advantage of this situation, the extremists on both the Sinhala and Tamil sides, as well as the Muslim extremists misguided the ordinary people.

Such misguiding of people will not be allowed this time. Conversation at grass root level is essential. That is what is meant by social dialogue. Therefore, we will be setting up Coexistence Societies around the country. The duty that lies with the Coexistence Societies is to make their mediation in case of conflict situations in the country to solve such conflicts without any prejudice on the grounds of ethnicity, religion or language differences, and with their priority to safeguarding the Sri Lankan identity, and thus, encouraging grass root level dialogues on the key issues of the country, without totally leaving them to be solved by the leader of the country.  We have already started such dialogues among the youth, public officers, artists, religious leaders, marginalized groups and women. We will rapidly carry on with this project this year.

I have set my aim at creating the opportunity for all citizens of this country to deal in their own mother tongue with the public officers and public institutions in fulfilling their day-to-day service needs. Thus, as the minister of official languages, I wish to offer the convenience to the Sinhala people of the South for receiving services in the Sinhala language through the Tamil officers serving at the public institutions in north-east areas as well as in the central hill areas, and in the same way, the opportunity for the Tamil citizens to receive services in the Tamil language through the Sinhala officers of the public institutions located even at the far east end of the country. I will achieve this aim. In addition to that, all sign board in the country should be correctly rendered in all three languages. I request the private sector also to display their sign board in the three languages, as trilingual rendition of the signage of both the public institutions and the private sector institutions is important. Also, all documents of both the public institutions and the private sector institutions should be in all three languages. Further, I will appoint Sinhala and Tamil translators to all public offices. As per the survey already conducted by us, we are in need of over 2600 translators. I will take step to prepare the cabinet memorandum in that regard and get the Cabinet approval for that and promptly start necessary work.

We have already started training of translators. As the official languages policy has not been in proper implementation, we will re-implement the policy and shortly commence the programme of preparing the sign boards at all locations in all three languages. Under the programme, we will take steps to correct any faults in the signboards of any of the public institutions. On such occassions, we ourselves will set up those sign boards after informing the authorities of the relevant institutions. I will take steps to get the necessary power for this same task through a Cabinet approval. I believe that HE the president and Hon. Prime Minister will grant me that power.

I will give priority to appoint translators to all public institutions that people regularly deal with, such as the police stations throughout the country, immigration and emigration offices, Grama Niladhari offices, zonal education offices, zonal health offices and hospitals.  That is my plan for the year 2017. Thus, by implementing that plan this year, the target can be achieved by next year. I should mention that the bogyman of the so-called national problem is not as scary as it is imagined to be. My ultimate wish is to establish a prosperous Sri Lanka where the people live in harmony and coexistence, celebrating their diversity as their strength, under the identity of “Sri Lankan”.


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