SINGAPORE - A wet market operator whose flyers drew flak for having a Hindi translation instead of a Tamil one has expressed remorse over his mistake and printed apology letters that were displayed publicly.
The flyers were meant to inform the public about the relocation of the wet market at Admiralty Place mall to a new area next to Woodlands East Neighbourhood Police Centre on June 11.
The announcement on the flyers was printed in English and translated into three other languages: Chinese, Malay, and what was meant to be Tamil but ended up as Hindi instead.
However, the apology letters put up ended up having an error as well and had to be replaced.
A photo of one of the original announcement flyers was posted Facebook on Friday (March 22) by user Vijaya Kandasamy.
She wrote: "I think you need more people who can read and write Tamil. What language is that? ...Please remove the person from your team if they don't know our very own official languages!"
The four official languages of Singapore are listed in the constitution as Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English.
Netizens also pointed out that the Malay portion of the flyer was poorly translated.
MP for Sembawang GRC Vikram Nair told The Straits Times that the flyers were put up by an independent wet market operator, who had not consulted any MPs or the town council before printing them.
Mr Nair said that the operator does not speak Hindi or Tamil.
He added that the "well-meaning" operator had tried to print the flyers to promote the new location of the wet market.
"He has been fighting hard for the stall owners, to keep the wet market alive given its move to a temporary location," he said.
Mr Nair said that after being alerted to the mistranslation on Thursday evening by his constituency director, he got in touch with the operator who said the flyers had all been taken down.
"He was very apologetic," said Mr Nair.
The operator in question, Mr Wayne Neo, repeatedly apologised for the mistake when contacted by ST on Friday night.
The 33-year-old, who is a spokesman for Admiralty Wet Market, said: "It was a bad mistake on our part, there are really no excuses."
He explained that as the market's current location in Admiralty Place mall would soon be closed, he and his team produced the flyers to ensure that customers would know where the new wet market would be.
"The renovations will last about a year, you can't expect the tenants to go without income. We got to take care of them," he said.
Initially, the team had planned to print the flyers in English, but were concerned that some elderly residents in the area might not understand the language.
A decision was then made to print the flyers in the four official languages.
However, Mr Neo and his team used Google Translate to produce the translations, leading to the poorly translated Malay section.
"We also mistakenly selected Hindi instead of Tamil,” said Mr Neo.
He admitted that if his team had consulted the MPs prior to printing the flyers, things might have turned out differently.
However, he felt that the various authorities were busy trying to settle the administration for the market's relocation, and did not want to bother them.
Mr Neo estimated that about 100 mistranslated flyers were given out, before he was alerted to the error on Thursday night.
Mr Nair said he told Mr Neo that while the MPs were supportive of his efforts, he should only print flyers after getting all the necessary government approvals, and ensured the translations are correct.
"I also told him that we have people who could help if he needed assistance, and that he should issue future notices in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil," he added.
Mr Neo said that he prepared a letter of apology, written in the four official languages, which was given to the authorities to vet.
But a mistake was found after they were put up. One of the Tamil characters had an extra circle symbol before it, which was introduced when the text was copied into Microsoft Word, said Mr Neo.
The letter's text was vetted via WhatsApp and there was no error then, he said.
Letters that were already up were removed immediately, after the mistake was spotted by a stallholder of an Indian grocery store who was helping to check the letter, said Mr Neo. New letters – about 15 – are slated to be put up on Sunday to replace the inaccurate ones.
He added that in future, more proofreading would be done.
Sembawang GRC MP Amrin Amin said that he visited the wet market on Saturday morning and saw that the apology in Tamil had some errors. "This is unacceptable," he said on Facebook.
Mr Amrin spoke to the operator about the flyer and said that "he has apologised for the serious error". "No malice intended. He is sincere and genuine," the MP added.
However, Mr Amrin questioned if this incident could be "a symptom of a lack of diversity among staff and network of friends".
"Isn't there someone to turn to who can read the translated version? It does not require a language expert to tell Hindi apart from Tamil and spot the weird Malay phrases," he said of the mistranslated flyer.
"This is worth reflecting. We have to continue to work on diversity and inclusion."
Additional reporting by Goh Yan Han