Signboards violating trilingual policy: Unable to act says Ministry

Action only if complaints are made 

By Sarah Hannan  

The Ministry of Public Services, Provincial Councils, and Local Government stated that it is not in a position to take action over signboards that depict writings in foreign languages in violation of the trilingual policy. 

The trilingual policy adopted by the country calls for all sign/name boards to be in Sinhala, Tamil, and English. 

However, project sites and work sites that are managed by Chinese companies continue to display signboards in Mandarin. Moreover, there are several signboards, especially in the Eastern Province, that are designed using Arabic lettering, raising the question of whether such signage is allowed in places that are accessed by the public. 

When contacted by The Sunday Morning, Ministry of Public Services, Provincial Councils, and Local Government Media Secretary S.R. Jayasundara said: “So far, no one has complained to us about such signs that are inconveniencing them. Although we have a language policy which recognises Sinhala and Tamil as our official national languages with English recognised as the link language, traditionally signage is to be displayed in these three languages.” 

The official stated that while there is no policy clause that indicates any other language board is not allowed, they said that the Department of Official Languages Commissioner General needs to be consulted, if action needs to be taken. 

A similar issue was raised in January 2019 by former Minister of National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress, and Hindu Religious Affairs Mano Ganesan, when the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. (CHEC) put up a board in English, Sinhala and, instead of Tamil, Mandarin lettering at their project site at the Aruwakkalu Sanitary Landfill. 

At the time, former Minister Ganesan had instructed the then Chairman of the Official Languages Commission to attend to the matter. Ganesan at the time also pointed out that at some projects sites, the boards were only in English and Mandarin, inconveniencing both Sinhala and Tamil-speaking workers. 

The matter was later resolved when the former Minister met with the Chinese Embassy and the project management and offered assistance to translate the signboards and include the content in Tamil. 

All attempts made by The Sunday Morning to contact the Commissioner General of Official Languages proved futile.