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Malaysia’s move to use Bahasa in international meets questioned

THE STRAITS TIMES – Malaysia’s ex-international trade minister Rafidah Aziz on Saturday questioned the government’s move to force civil servants to use Bahasa Malaysia in international meetings and correspondence, warning that the country could become “bureaucratic pariahs in ASEAN”.

She was responding to comments by the Chief Secretary to the Government Zuki Ali – Malaysia’s highest ranked civil servant – for the Public Service Department (JPA) to consider punitive measures to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the civil service.

Zuki said on Tuesday that he hoped the JPA could examine actions that could be taken against civil servants who take lightly the instructions related to the use of the national language.

Rafidah said in a statement: “If this mindset of being inward-looking persists, with even penalties imposed for not communicating with the rest of the world in Bahasa Malaysia, then we will be the bureaucratic pariahs in ASEAN.”

The civil servants’ competence in English used to be a key driver in attracting high-quality foreign investments, she said.

“Malaysia was indeed the preferred investment and business destination where 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 (self-indulgent), tiny, self-wound cocoon,” she said.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on May 22 that all affairs involving foreign countries including correspondence must now be conducted in Bahasa Melayu.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in March said PM Ismail will use Bahasa Melayu when delivering his speech at the United Nations Conference in September, and at the ASEAN Summit in November.