20 Feb 2012
KUCHING: Sarawak PKR Chief Baru Bian reminded Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka that it cannot impose Malay as the only official language to be used in Sarawak as it is in a special position in that English still remains one of the official languages in the state.
“We are not bound to adhere to the National Language Act 1963/1967 which requires that Bahasa Malaysia be used for official purposes,” he said.
Bian, who is Ba’Kelalan assemblyman, was responding to Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka’s proposed audit to assess the usage of Bahasa Malaysia as the official language in government departments, agencies and ministries.
“With regard to the first principle of the audit, i.e the extent of compliance with the National Language policy, I wish to point out that Sarawak is in a special position in that English remains one of the official languages here.
“Our oft-forgotten 18-point agreement with Malaya provides particular protection for the use of the English language for Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak that Malay should be the national language of the Federation, while English should continue to be used for a period of 10 years after Malaysia Day.
“And English should be an official language of Borneo (Sarawak & Sabah) for all purposes, State or Federal, without limitation of time,” he said.
Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, which was commemorated at the 152 Language Day at DPN Sarawak on 15 February 2012, states that Malay language is the national language but everybody is free to learn and use other languages except on official purposes such as any purpose as regards to the government, federal or state and any purpose of a public authority.
All court proceedings, parliamentary documents and meetings must be conducted in Malay language.
Bian said: “It may be well and good that the Dewan Bahasa dan Pusaka had decided to single out Article 152 for commemoration but it must be borne in mind that for Sabah and Sarawak, Article 152 cannot be read in isolation from Art 161 in Part XIIA ‘Additional Protection for States of Sabah and Sarawak’.
“Article 161 provides that ‘… no act of Parliament terminating or restricting the use of the English language… shall come into operation… until the Act or relevant provision of it has been approved by an enactment of the Legislature of that State.’
“This exemption preserves for Sabah and Sarawak the use of English in the Courts, the Legislative Assembly or for other official purposes (including the official purposes of the Federal Government). [ Art 161 (2)(b) & (c)].
“In Sarawak, the National Language Act 1963/1967 has not been approved by an enactment by the Sarawak State Assembly and hence its provisions do not apply in here.
“Therefore it is not mandatory that Bahasa Malaysia should be the only language used in our government departments and ministries, even for purposes of the Federal Government,” Bian pointed out.
He went on to say that: “In fact, Art 161(5) of the Federal Constitution provides that notwithstanding anything in Article 152, in the State of Sabah or Sarawak a native language in current use in the State may be used in native courts or for any code of native law and custom, and in the case of Sarawak, until otherwise provided by enactment of the Legislature, may be used by a member addressing the Legislative Assembly or any committee thereof.
“Similarly, Art 26 (8) of the Sarawak Constitution provides that ‘For a period of 10 years and thereafter until the Legislature by law otherwise provides, all proceedings in the Dewan may be in the English language, and subject to the standing orders of the Dewan Undangan Negeri, members may use any native language in addressing the Dewan.
“Having set out the Constitutional and legislative provisions regarding the use of English and Bahasa Malaysia in Sarawak, let me state that I am not against the use of Bahasa Malaysia in Sarawak.
“What concerns me is that Sarawakians must know, understand and appreciate the uniqueness of our State and her people, and the efforts made by our forefathers to protect and safeguard this uniqueness.
“We have a particular richness in language and culture from our various ethnic groups, and we must value and maintain this heritage. Our past leaders made special provisions in the 18-point agreement to protect our rights in recognition of the fact that even in our diversity, we had an established sense of identity before joining the Federation of Malaysia.
“The safeguards were formulated to enable us to retain this sense of identity and to continue ‘to ensure that our beloved subjects shall ultimately enjoy their inherent right to control their own lives and destinies’ as proclaimed by Sir Charles Vyner Brooke in the first clause of Sarawak's first written constitution in 1941.
“These safeguards include the freedom to conduct our business in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and the native dialects. Sarawakians have always taken pride in our command of the English language, and we must continue to maintain this mastery for the sake of the future generations.
“The English language is a language which opens up the global world to us. It is the language of learning, and enables us to take our place in the world scene, whether it is in business, academia, the arts, diplomacy, research, science etc. It would be a great shame and a disservice for us and the future generations of Sarawakians to disown or neglect a language which has served us so well,” Bian said.
He noted the Federal Government’s desire to promote the use of Bahasa Malaysia.
“However, all parties involved must be aware of the constitutional rights and the special position of Sabah and Sarawak.
“By defending our rights, I am by no means advocating a regression into the past – I am simply calling for recognition of the uniqueness of our ethnic and religious mix and encouraging the various ethnic groups to embrace their heritage and celebrate their differences.
“Once a culture is lost, there is no easy way of regaining it.” he said, pointing out that he does not agree with the first principle of the proposed audit, but wholeheartedly support the implementation of the second principle, i.e to improve language quality.
“Let us not promote one particular language to the exclusion of the others. Mastery of multiple languages is the key to education and to progress and development in this increasingly borderless world.
“We would be taking a myopic view to restrict the use of other languages in our workplace and in our lives. Sarawak does not prescribe to one particular language as her official language and we are proud of that fact,” Bian added.