Freedom to use English is our right, Sarawak tells Putrajaya

Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri

KUCHING, Sept 4: The rights of Sarawak to use English as its official language alongside Bahasa Malaysia should not be questioned, said Batang Sadong MP Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri.

She pointed out that the state had never passed any ordinance to restrict or terminate the use of English as its official language as provided for in the Cobbold Commission Report, Inter Governmental Committee (IGC) Report, and Article 161(3) of the Federal Constitution.

Nancy was responding to the Education Ministry’s statement that it is against the use of English as the medium of instruction in national schools as it violates Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution and the National Language Act as well as contravenes the letter and spirit of the Education Act, 1996.

The ministry, in a written parliamentary reply to Nancy when asked on its stance on Sarawak schools using English as the medium of instruction, said Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution stipulates that Bahasa Malaysia is the national language.

Nancy, a former minister-in-charge of legal matters in the Prime Minister’s Department, said it was agreed in the Cobbold Commission Report that Malay is the national language and that both Malay and English are the official languages without any time limit for Sabah and Sarawak.

She added that the position of the English Language was refined further and agreed upon in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), which stated that “Malay is the national language but English language is the official language for a period of 10 years after the formation of Malaysia, until the state legislature provides otherwise”.

Article 161 of the Federal Constitution states that 10 years after Malaysia was formed, Parliament can pass a Bill on the use of English in the courts in Sabah and Sarawak, in the state legislature, and for other official purposes in both states.

However, this can only be enforced when the said Act or relevant provision of it has been approved by an enactment of the legislature of that state, she continued.

“To date, has there been an Act of Parliament restricting or terminating the use of the English language?

“The answer is affirmative, where the National Language Act 1963/1967 and revised in 1971 (Parliament Act 32), clearly restricted and terminates the use of English language. It stated that the national language is the only official language to use in the country, including Sabah and Sarawak, and that all official correspondence shall be in the national language.

“However, in order for the aforesaid Act 32 to have legal affect in Sabah and Sarawak, an enactment/ordinance has to be passed in the state legislature as stated in the Cobbold Commission Report, IGC Report and Article 161 of the Federal Constitution,” Nancy explained.

She said now that the federal government had expressed its willingness to look into MA63 for Sarawak, Putrajaya should realise that it was the spirit of MA63 that allowed the Borneo states to use English as their medium of instruction. — DayakDaily