English remains vital in civil service, forcing civil servants to use BM is regressive

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In response to Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Zuki Ali’s call for the Public Service Department (JPA) to consider punitive measures to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service.

Punitive measures to enforce Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service and other government-related agencies will cause Malaysia to lose out, says the G25 group of eminent Malays.

The group said that there are many areas in which civil servants may have to communicate in English to reach a common understanding on issues and problems as they arise.

“While G25 supports the importance of Bahasa Malaysia in creating a united nation between the various races that form the country, there must also be recognition of the importance of English as the universal language of the international community in many aspects of daily life,” it said.

The group’s statement is in response to Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Zuki Ali’s call for the Public Service Department (JPA) to consider punitive measures to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service.

This includes other government-related agencies, including government-linked companies.

G25 said on Sunday (May 29) that when discussing and analysing issues such as the Covid-19 virus or economic issues faced by the country, related ministers and government officers can analyse the crisis and understand others better by using English.

It said the language is commonly used in international health and financial organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and economic research institutes, including those in Malaysia.

“If punitive action is strictly implemented in the civil service, how do the officers do their work?

The fear factor will lead to complications in conducting meetings and writing policy papers regarding the problems facing the country,” it said.

It added that participation in conferences will be affected, especially in international conferences, with a potential loss of knowledge and wisdom which can be gained from the conferences.

“Should punitive and corrective measures on the excessive use of English be implemented, it will raise the question of whether the government is trying to reverse the modern trend in Malaysian society in the interests of upholding the stature of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language,” it said.

Meanwhile, former minister Rafidah Aziz said enforcing the use of Bahasa Malaysia at all official functions, including at international meetings, is a regressive move.

She said civil servants should instead be raising their proficiency in English, including other relevant languages.

“I sympathise with international trade ministry officers and others who still need to deal with the foreign community, should they be forced to comply with the use of Malay on all official matters.

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“We should be progressing and moving forward, not regressing and sliding backwards and downwards,” she said in a Facebook post.

She added that civil servants’ competence in English used to be a key driver in attracting high-quality foreign investments.

Known for her no-nonsense attitude, Rafidah criticised Zuki Ali’s statement in calling on the Public Service Department to consider punitive measures to “enforce” the use of Malay language in communications with the rest of the world.

Rafidah said that when she was the trade and industry minister, she had prioritised the use of English to ensure efficiency in the delivery of its services.

“Every year, the private sector honoured the ministry with the annual enterprise award. Communication was facilitated and effective.

“The vision and reference point was ‘Malaysia in the regional and global infrastructure’. Not Malaysia in its own ‘syok sendiri’, tiny, self-wound cocoon.

“If this mindset of being inward-looking persists, with penalties imposed for communicating with the rest of the world in English, then we will be the bureaucratic pariahs in Asean,” Rafidah, also known as the Iron Lady, said.

Recently while addressing a symposium on promoting the use of Bahasa Malaysia at Asean and international meetings, Zuki called on the Public Service Department to consider corrective and punitive measures to enforce the use of the language in the civil service and other government-related agencies, including government-linked companies.

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He said he would like to see full compliance with the government policy as it was announced by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob that the national language be used not only within the country but also internationally.

In February, Ismail said the country will use Bahasa Malaysia at all official functions in which it is involved, including international meetings, as part of efforts to strengthen the national language.

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He used Bahasa Malaysia when holding bilateral meetings and joint press conferences during official visits to Brunei, Cambodia and Thailand.