Yes! It’s paloi …
By:M Rajah

The use of English in government departments is dismal. Government officials cannot participate in international conferences effectively because most are handicapped. Luckily, we still have some good English-educated and well-spoken English graduates. That generation is fading away rapidly and we will lose out.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam,  economist and ex-senior civil servant

It looks like the standard of English of our civil servants is not going to improve. Not now or in the near future.

Why the pessimism? Well, for one thing, last February while on an official trip to Bangkok Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob insisted government officials should speak only Bahasa Malaysia when representing the country at functions overseas. For another, Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali recently suggested that the Public Service Department (JPA) consider punitive actions against those who ignore Service Circular No. 1 2020 on enhancing the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service.

With the fear of punitive measures and disciplinary action against them – just because they communicate in English – do you expect Malaysia’s civil servants to improve their English language, the current lingua franca of international business, science, technology, diplomacy, education, radio, entertainment, seafaring, and aviation?

I agree with my Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah when he said recently it’s “silly and stupid” to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service with punitive measures.

I agree with my Education, Innovation and Talent Development Minister Datuk Roland Sagah Wee Inn’s reaction that the proposed punitive measures are short-sighted and ridiculous.

And I agree with Sarawak’s fifth chief minister, the late Pehin Sri Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s view that to ignore the importance of English is just impractical.

Adenan had in November 2015 announced the adoption of English as the other official language in the Sarawak administration while stressing that Bahasa Malaysia is the official language of the state as stated under Article 152 of the Federal Constitution.

“You may use either English or Bahasa Malaysia (as the language of correspondence for inter-governmental communication between the state government, and agencies and the public). If we do not adopt English as the second official language, we will all be left behind.

“It is a pity that many graduates are unemployed because of their poor communication skills in English,” said Adenan as he announced English as the second official language back then.

He went a step further when he said his government was looking into ways to enhance the command of the English language among Sarawak’s rural folk.

For his stand over the use of English, Adenan was unjustly labelled as “unpatriotic”.

A political analyst, Associate Professor Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, was among several people, who criticised Adenan when he said the state government’s decision to make English an official language went against the spirit of the Federal Constitution.

Unlike Sabah, Sarawak has never passed an enactment to declare Bahasa Malaysia its official language.

Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, who was then the state Housing and Tourism Minister, was among local leaders who came to Adenan’s defence when he said the decision to make English as Sarawak’s second official language after Bahasa Malaysia was in accordance with the Malaysia Agreement.

I believe Sarawak leaders are being more practical compared to their Malayan counterparts who are myopic to say the least.

Others have also criticised the proposal of the Chief Secretary to the Government, including former international trade and industry minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and the G25 group of eminent Malays.

I am sure many will agree that English is important, especially in Malaysia, which is gearing towards becoming a high income nation before the decade is over.

Yes, it is paloi (silly) to take punitive actions against civil servants who continue to communicate in English in the civil service.

Abdul Karim has said that English is used worldwide for business and communication, and in Sarawak, it is widely used by civil servants and in the State Legislative Assembly.

As he aptly put it: “Being proficient in English does not make one less Malaysian or less Malay.”

So, does it mean that if our state leaders fail to act against those who continue to communicate in English in the civil service and in Dewan Undangan Negeri, Putrajaya will penalise our leaders?

Let’s be reasonable and practical here. While upholding the importance and the use of Bahasa Malaysia, our civil servants should be encouraged to communicate fluently in a second language – in this case the English language. 

Just because our national leaders aren’t able to communicate in reasonably good English, they should not come up with “silly and stupid” directives to stop others, especially civil servants, from communicating in any language that they are comfortable with. 

Let me say this: as far as Sarawak is concerned we should continue to emphasise the importance and use of Bahasa Malaysia as the National Language – which I should proudly say that we have not wavered in our stand – while encouraging Sarawakians to master the English language so that we’ll continue to be marketable internationally and be able to be on par with the rest of the world.

If our Malayan leaders – and the people there – want to remain in their shell, that’s their funeral!   

Remember this, English is spoken by 20 per cent of the global population – that’s 1.5 billion people! Given its popularity in everyday communication, business, and entertainment, it’s important for non-native-speakers to hurry up and learn the language.

My reasons why English is important:

  • It’s an international common tongue.
  • It’s the language of academia.
  • It gives you access to a wealth of written media – online and printed.
  • It comes in handy when traveling.
  • It’s necessary if you want to work in international business or commerce.

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New Sarawak Tribune is a Sarawakian news portal that highlights Sarawak-centric news and other stories of relevance to Sarawak.

Today, New Sarawak Tribune focuses on happenings in Sarawak’s cities, towns and small places no matter how remote these are and events of relevance in other states of Malaysia and other countries.