by Ranga Jayasuriya
Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa presented appointment papers to a new intake of 135 recruits to the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS). The apex of the government’s bureaucracy, the SLAS is supposed to represent all communities which form the citizenry of this country.
Alas, there were no Tamils and just a single Muslim among the new batch of recruits . None of the Tamil medium candidates were among two hundred and fifty seven candidates who were shortlisted for the interview. Even the Secretary of Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs P.B. Abeykoon confides that it was unfair. But, there is little room for remedy.
His explanation is that the new recruits were chosen through an open competitive examination and none of the Tamil medium candidates could score enough marks. Secretary Abeykoon says that the exam papers were marked and re-evaluated by the Tamil language academics and that the Ministry could do little to help disgruntled Tamil candidates as the bulk of the marks in the selection process are allocated for the examination. Only 25 marks out of the total of 500 are allocated for the interview.
Be that as it may, others feel bitter and excluded. Dr. A.L. Farook, a member of Professional Administration of Ampara District says that recent appointments smack of ethnic discrimination. He also points out that there is only a single Tamil speaking recruit out of 29 recent appointments made to District Secretariats in Ampara District.
“This would create a huge communication gap. Even in areas, such as Valapapitty, where Tamil speaking communities comprise the entire population, the new appointee could only speak Sinhala. People simply can’t communicate with government officials”, he says.
Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims live in equal numbers in the Eastern community. Dr. Farook argues that the appointments to government jobs should reflect this demographical reality.
“When two communities are excluded in favour of the majority community, that would create bitterness which could translate into racial enmity,” he cautions.
He adds that the ethnic composition in the East itself makes it too dangerous to upset the status quo.
He calls for affirmative action for minority communities and points out that Tamil candidates could not compete with the others due to years of neglect in educational facilities as a result of the war.
An ethnic quota for minority communities would address the existing imbalances in the government bureaucracy, he suggests.
However, Abeykoon, the Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration says that the Attorney General had instructed the Ministry not to ‘give preference to anyone on ethnic lines”. The instructions by the Attorney General’s Department are in line with an on- going hearing of a Fundamental Rights Petition challenging affirmative action.
Abeykoon says the Ministry would hold a separate examination to recruit civil servants to the North East.
This examination has been held every ten years, beginning from 1991, and in 2001. The next examination which would be held in 2011 and would recruit 79 Tamil speaking civil servants, who will have to serve in the North East for a minimum of ten years upon appointment.
Abeykoon says the intake of Tamils in the civil service was dwindling even when he joined the civil service in the early 80s. There were only four to five Tamil recruits even then, he says, reminiscing the past.
That was a complete reversal from the colonial days and the early decades of independence when Tamils dominated the civil service, supported by a network of schools which Christian missionaries built throughout the Jaffna peninsula in the 19th century and the colonial practice of divide and rule which favoured minority Burgers and Tamils over the majority Sinhalese.
Dominance of Tamils and Burgers didn’t confine to the Civil service. Burgers accounted for 40 per cent of colonial defence forces while Tamils claimed for 20 per cent. Anton Mutukumaru, a Tamil, was the first native commander of Ceylonese Army and Rajan Kadirgamar, the brother of former foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar was the second native commander of the Ceylonese Navy and the one who served the longest as the commander of Navy in its history.
However, tables turned with the independence and Tamils perceived ethnic discrimination at the hand of Sinhalese led governments. Statics of ethnic composition in civil service indicates a gradual decline in the Tamil share in the civil service since the independence; in the administrative service, the number of Tamil office holders declined from 11.1 percent of the total during the 1970-77 period to only 5.7 percent during the 1978-81 period. The percentage during 1978-81, however, was substantially lower than Sri Lankan Tamils’ percentage of the total population (12.6 percent in 1985).
That was a sharp decline from 24.7 % Tamils who were employed in the Civil Service in 1948.
The standardization of university admission was introduced as students from the Jaffna peninsula that benefitted from better education facilities in the region thronged to local universities. Disproportionate Tamil presence in local universities came at the cost of resource starved rural Sinhalese students.
After three decades of conflict, education facilities in the North East are in shambles. The standard of education has come down drastically as people were displaced and schools were forced to move out from their original premises which were taken over by the army and declared as High Security Zones. Journalist and educationist V.T. Sahadevaraja complains that even after the end of the war, the government is slow to rectify the disparities in the education sector.
For instance, he says in the Eastern province, 147 Additional Directors of Education are serving in temporary capacity for nearly a decade. He claims that though it is the practice in other parts of the country that Additional Directors of Education are made permanent after two years of service, the officers from the Eastern province are treated differently.
This smacks of discrimination, he alleges.
“This has its toll on the education service in the province which is still reeling from the consequences of the war.”
Referring to the exclusion of Tamil speaking candidates in recent appointments to Additional District Secretariats in Ampara District, Sahadevaraja says the Ampara District Inter-Religious Federation , of which he is the media coordinator is planning to make submissions before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) about the exclusion of Tamil speaking people in the civil service.
LLRC is scheduled to meet in the East next month.
Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne - Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs:
It is not fair that Tamils and Muslims are not represented in the new intake. But, the new batch of SLAS officers was selected through a competitive examination. We recruited those who scored highest marks and it has been the practice throughout the past in recruiting to the civil service.
Then, we noticed that none of the Tamil medium candidates has scored enough marks. We can’t fail those who have passed this highly competitive examination. The problem is candidates from the North and the East could not compete with the candidates from the other parts of the country. This was due to the consequences of the war which caused education standards in the North-East provinces to decline.
Now we are planning to hold a separate examination for Tamil language candidates to fill the vacancies in the North East.
Mavai Senathirajah - MP, Tamil National Alliance:
This issue was taken up in Parliament. It is grossly unfair that minority communities are excluded. The explanation given to us was that none of them scored high marks.
We have now asked the government to conduct a separate examination for the Tamil language candidates and fill in the vacancies in the North-East from those who are selected via that examination. ~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~