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Ombudsman criticises the Ministry of Transport and Communications’ administrative branch names nimiä

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has commented on the parallel name Väylä for the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, the parallel name Traficom for the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency, and the English-only official name of Traffic Management Finland Oy. The names were given during the reform of the administrative branch of the Ministry of Transport and Communications at the beginning of 2019. Six complaints have been submitted to the Ombudsman. 
 
In previous decisions, the Ombudsman has found that the use of a parallel name, in itself, is not illegal. However, the parallel name must always be used in connection with the authority’s official name and in a way that is unambiguous and will not cause confusion as to which authority is being referred to. A parallel name can only be used on its own for in-house purposes. An authority may not be referred to by its parallel name only, even if the parallel name has, with time, become established in common language. If the parallel name is an abbreviation of the authority’s name, the same principles must be used to form parallel names in both national languages.
 
In principle, giving a private unit with a remit for public administration duties a foreign-language name only in lieu of the two national languages of Finland does not comply with the rules of good governance or the linguistic rights specified by law.
 
The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency’s parallel name Väylä
 
The parallel name Väylä has been used on its own in lieu of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency’s official name, or otherwise primarily for purposes other than the agency’s internal use. The parallel name Väylä has been used on its own for communication purposes, such as in social media, newsletters and signboards, or other signage. The parallel name Väylä has primarily been used in the agency’s documents and web pages in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the parallel name rather than to the agency’s official name. This is in clear contrast to the practices specified in the Ombudsman’s previous decisions.
 
Another reason why Väylä is not in line with the practices specified in the Ombudsman’s previous decisions is that no corresponding Swedish-language parallel name has been formed of the agency’s official Swedish-language name that could be used in a manner similar to the Finnish-language parallel name Väylä, which has clearly been formed on the basis of the agency’s official Finnish-language name.
 
The Ombudsman has requested that the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency inform the Ombudsman by 28 February 2020 which actions will be taken as the result of the Ombudsman’s decision.
 
The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency’s parallel name Traficom
 
From the viewpoint of good governance and linguistic obligations, the Ombudsman has no grounds to intervene with the use of the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency’s parallel name Traficom or the way in which it has been formed. The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency has complied with the rules and principles specified in the Ombudsman’s previous decision on the Finnish Transport Safety Agency´s parallel name Trafi. 
 
However, the Ombudsman emphasises that the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency must ensure that the agency’s parallel name, or the way in which it is used, does not violate the rules of good governance by being conducive to confusing the public authority with a private operator (e.g. Traficon Oy), or vice versa. If this happens, the agency should use any means available to eliminate the reasons for and the effects of using the parallel name in a confusing manner.
 
Traffic Management Finland Oy 
 
Traffic Management Finland Oy is the parent company of a group that produces traffic control and management services. It also has a remit for public administration duties. Fully owned by the State, the company’s name is only in English.
 
The Ombudsman found that the setting of up a completely new company for the performance of public administration duties and the subsequent need to form a new company name would have been sufficient grounds for naming the company in accordance with the same requirements of the Language Act and the Administrative Procedure Act that are applied to the names of authorities. On the other hand, the names of some of the group’s subsidiaries that were set up earlier were only in English or another foreign language. 
 
Although the Ombudsman did not find the end result to be satisfactory from the viewpoint of linguistic rights and good governance, based on the above information, the Ombudsman did not have sufficient grounds to further intervene with the name selected by the company at this stage.
 
Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen’s decisions 6513/2018, 6575/2018, 6593/2018, 197/2019, 215/2019 and 1622/2019 are available in full in Finnish on the Ombudsman’s website www.oikeusasiamies.fi.
 
For more information, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. + +358 9 4323364.