Sarawak holds firm on English, Bahasa Malaysia in official govt communications

Sarawak State Secretary Datuk Amar Mohamad Abu Bakar Marzuki. Photo credit: Sarawak Public Communications Unit

KUCHING, Oct 26: Sarawak will maintain English as one of the official government communication languages, despite Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s “reminder” to government agencies advising against entertaining any letters not written in Malay.

Sarawak Secretary Datuk Amar Mohamad Abu Bakar Marzuki emphasised that this directive does not apply in Sarawak.
He said Sarawak will not follow Anwar’s reminder, which instructs all government departments to return letters received from local companies, public and private universities, or any other entity if they are written in a language other than the national language Bahasa Malaysia, as reported in a local daily yesterday.

In a speech delivered during the launch of the National Language Decade Carnival and National Reading Decade at Multimedia University, Cyberjaya yesterday, Anwar emphasised that his directive aims to promote the use of the national language and uphold the fundamental principles outlined in the Federal Constitution, which mandate communication with government departments in the national language.

Urging all not to underestimate the importance of the national language in nation-building, Anwar said any official communications to government departments not in national language should be returned to the sender.

Article 152 of the Federal Constitution states that Malay is the national language, while the position of the Malay language is also specified in the National Language Act 1967.

However, this is not the first instance of Sarawak holding divergent views from the federal government on language-related policies.

In June last year, Premier of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg declared that the Sarawak Civil Service would continue to use English as its official language alongside Bahasa Malaysia, the national language.

Abang Johari emphasised that Sarawak’s stance is not against the national policy regarding the use of the national language, but there are two official languages specified in the Constitution of Sarawak. Sarawak remains steadfast in its policy, prioritising both Bahasa Malaysia and English.

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

Highlighting Sarawak’s rights under the Federal Constitution, Abang Johari even cited Article 161(3) which clearly allows the use of English in the High Court in Borneo or for proceedings in the Supreme Court.

The Premier has consistently stressed the importance of Sarawakians being multilingual, including mastering the English language, for the acquisition of knowledge and to ensure they have a competitive edge on the global stage. — DayakDaily