Indranee Rajah pays tribute to late Tamil translator who worked in Parliament for over 30 years


Hannah Martens | May 10, 2023, 03:43 PM

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Singapore's Parliament has lost one of its "voices" — a translator working behind the scenes translating parliamentary proceedings for over 30 years.

Palaniappan s/o Arumugam, more affectionately known by parliamentarians as Pala, diligently translated speeches into Tamil through a glass panel whenever parliament was in session.

He passed away on May 4, 2023, at 73.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah revealed the news in Parliament on May 10, 2023.

"Every time a Member speaks in this chamber, three other voices speak too. That's our translators simultaneously translating our speeches into the other official languages. Today, one of those voices is silent."

Indranee commemorated Palaniappan in a speech recognising his work for Parliament all these years.

They left a bouquet on his usual seat in tribute.

Via MCI/YouTube

His family was invited to attend the session.

Via MCI/YouTube

"Unassuming but remarkable man"

Palaniappan served under five speakers of the House, including current speaker Tan Chuan-Jin.

"Many of us have only ever known Mr Palaniappan in his role as a translator and interpreter in Parliament. However, this was only part of the rich tapestry of his life and service," said Indranee.

Palaniappan's 50-year career in public service started in 1968 when he was a judiciary interpreter at the state courts. He stayed in that role till 1990.

From 1981 to 1983, he took a hiatus from being a judiciary interpreter and worked with the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

Palaniappan joined the Parliament Secretariat in September 1990 and retired in January 2012 when he reached the compulsory retirement age.

He rejoined the Parliament Secretariat in July 2020 before moving to work part-time to interpret Parliamentary proceedings during sittings till November 2022.

Palaniappan was often heard translating Parliament proceedings from English to Tamil and from Tamil to English when speeches were made in Tamil.

Key highlights of his career

Palaniappan also led the language services department from 2008 to 2012, where he instituted measures to improve simultaneous interpretation services during Parliamentary sittings. In addition, he helped manage Parliamentary visits and conferences and took up the role of chief liaison officer for many Parliamentary conferences.

He ensured foreign dignitaries were well cared for and received numerous praise and compliments.

Palaniappan was also part of the regular interpretation team for the National Day rallies and was appointed by the government as a member of the National Standardisation Committee for Tamil Media from 2009 to 2013.

He served as the Tamil resource panel Chairman of the National Translation Committee from 2014 to 2020, where he helped improve Tamil translation standards within the public service.

In 2014, Palaniappan translated the biography of S R Nathan into Tamil.

For his contributions over the years, he was awarded multiple medals — such as the Public Service Medal in 2001, the Long Service Medal in 2008 and the Commendation Medal in 2011.

Contributions to the community

Indranee shared that Palaniappan contributed to the community, serving as the Vice Chairman of the Telok Blangah Citizen Consultative Committee.

He was also a grassroots leader and played a role in grassroots events.

In the 1980s, Palaniappan served as the secretary of the Hindu Endowment Board. He also served on the management committee of the Sri Krishnan Temple. In addition, he emceed and helped out at the temple's consecration ceremonies and functions.

"A good friend and a good man"

"But beyond these official duties, there was Mr Pala, the man. Gentle, unassuming and approachable, Mr Pala will quickly put people at ease," Indranee described.

Indranee shared that when she was first appointed Deputy Speaker of the House, Palaniappan made her feel welcome and offered assistance when needed.

"He was always ready to give counsel and help those who needed it.

Warm, witty and, friendly, he had a cheeky and playful streak which endeared him to many who encountered him, and he was always good company.

He was a good father and a good role model... We have lost a good friend and a good man. However, we have been enriched by his contributions, the impact of which still remain[s].

He may no longer be with us, but his voice can still be heard in the words, in the works he translated and in the Tamil language that he loved so dearly and did so much to promote."

Mr Palaniappan was a Singaporean we can all be proud of.

May he rest in peace."

Tribute from Tan Chuan-Jin

Current Speaker of the House, Tan Chuan-Jin, shared on Facebook on May 4 about Palaniappan's passing.

Tan pointed out that Palaniappan was "more than" a veteran Tamil translator.

"Always jovial, cheeky even, and a sharp sense of humour," Tan described. "He was a friend to many of us."

Tan also shared that Palaniappan had not been feeling well and sent a message during the Committee of Supply debates that said he was leaving the group chat as he was "undergoing treatment for my illness".

"Thank you for your stellar service, Pala. We will miss you."

Tan also wrote an obituary on that said:

"One well-loved has left our side. But the memory of his smile, his kindness, his selfless service remain in our hearts forever."


Top photos via MCI/YouTube and Parliament of Singapore