Thursday, June 20

Towards a ‘significant’ Sarawak


WHEN an appetiser with a snippy twist appeared on the menu card of a recent official dinner in parliament, it was so easy to pass it off as a simple and straightforward spelling mistake.

Scissor Salad (Chicken). Yes, that’s the name of the hors d’oeuvre which has been making the news of late. It would seem odd, to say the least, to have such a name for a cocktail unless, of course, it is a typo or a joke. It was neither, one would suspect.

However, red-faced officials were quick to blame it on printing error, pointing out that the menu was prepared by the caterer, not parliament.

Be that as it may, the goof-up shows our ignorance of the starters on a western menu and reflects our serious lack of exposure, especially on the part of the young generation, to the wider world of cuisine knowledge outside the country.

And, obviously, one of the main culprits is our poor command of the English language which is not only the lingua franca of technology, science, medicine, social science and humanity but also of cuisine as the “Scissor Salad” bungle amply demonstrates.

It takes courage to admit to a slip-up and even greater courage to take the first step to make good the misstep and let the real appetiser — Caesar Salad — find its place to our dining table.

In any endeavour that may be politically contentious but is ultimately a country’s intellectual and progressive lodestar, it takes a courageous man with a big heart to initiate the first right move towards making the difference between regression or stagnation and advancement.

In this regard, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has taken on the challenge to make English an official language of communication and correspondence in government service, besides Bahasa Malaysia.

Critics and detractors have crept out of the woodwork to voice their objections but Adenan remains undaunted because what he is doing will benefit the state in the long term and as such, he has the backs of Sarawakians who are not lost on the reality that English proficiency will serve as an important tool to move us forward in innumerable spheres of enterprise and industry.

“Our Chief Minister is a man who dares. He has made several bold decisions which are popular with the people of Sarawak and tally with our feelings and aspirations,” said Tan Sri Dato Sri Safri Awang Zaidell, a former Deputy State Secretary.

Adenan started out as a journalist with an English newspaper before going to Adelaide, Australia, to read law. He is broad-minded – obviously his early education at an English-medium mission school had played a vital role in exposing him to the world of knowledge, preparing him for tertiary education and molding his character.

He is fair, objective and poised – attributes he possibly had acquired from his early career in journalism.

Yet the man is traditional and patriotic, and possesses the peace-loving nature of Sarawakians – something attributable to his upbringing as evidenced by his love of his mother.

“I gave what I earned as a journalist to my mother. By the time I left for overseas, my mother gave me back all that I gave her. Mother, being mother,” he shared at a function with journalists.

Safri Awang Zaidell continued: “In my view, the CM’s decision on the English language may be problematic to some people but welcomed by many others. It’s to his credit, of course, that he, as a leader, can make very quick decisions on matters of importance.”

Adenan saw the urgency to rectify the “poor English” situation but he definitely also expected brickbats but is willing to face his critics for the sake of the state and nation.

Many Malay groups have criticised Sarawak’s re-adoption of the use of English — alongside Bahasa Malaysia — including Social and Cultural Affairs advisor Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim who called on Adenan to reconsider his decision to safeguard unity between the peninsular and Sarawak.

Rais was quoted to have said, “Isn’t this a disintegration, or will it not cause a split in the society? So, in terms of nationhood, I am not in favour of the State government’s stand.”

Brushing aside critics of his stand, Adenan said: “I’m just being practical, that’s all. You cannot deny English is the international language. If we don’t go along with that, we will be left behind. We can develop both English and Bahasa Malaysia and with that, we will be bilingual and even trilingual. I’m not saying to the exclusion of Bahasa Malaysia. I’m saying Bahasa Malaysia and English together.”

Safri Awang noted: “Adenan’s style is that when he learns of a problem, he will take action to solve the problem on the spot. I am not surprised over CM’s decision on making English as an official language.”

What concerns Adenan is the fact that the lack of a good command of English among our new graduates has resulted in many of them being turned away from the professions they aspire to – like the thousands of medical students who gave up halfway due to English deficiency. This is but just one glaring example of the unnecessary waste of human capital.

Undeniably, Rais Yatim speaks good English and did his PhD in a UK university. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad also speaks and writes good English. So does the present Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who received his education at Nottingham University, UK.

That has not made any of them less patriotic or reduced their spirit of nationalism and their ability to “integrate” with fellow Malaysians. But, will there be able to hold such important position in the country if they can’t communicate using English language?

Safri Awang surmised: “The low standard of English among a number of our graduates today is a worrying problem. They can’t get jobs partly because of that. English is such an important language and a good command of the language is essential in our now globalized world.

“The use of English as another official language will, hopefully, help address the problem.

“CM’s move is a positive step forward and we hope that the federal government will follow suit.”

Now that the Chief Minister has taken the bold step, what’s next?

Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How applauded the mettle of the Chief Minister for bringing up this important issue and commended leaders from both sides of the political divide for their unified stance on the matter.

See said the state had to move beyond political rhetoric and replicating arguments in order for Putra Jaya to hear us loud and clear and adjust their political postulation which is “essentially self-interested but clothed in fictitious nationalism.”

“Since the formation of Malaysia, the assertion of our rights to use English has been repeated but only for it to be abused to achieve political and electoral purposes. Each time, our political leaders would back down when they come to the fence put up by fiction in the name of nationalism or other pretentious national interest consideration.

“This time, we must be firm and ready to exercise our constitutional and legal rights under the Malaysia Agreement to require the implementation of the assurances, undertakings and recommendations contained in the Inter-Governmental Committee Report which include our autonomy in the system and policy of education in Sarawak including the restoration of English as a medium of instruction in schools.”

See also stressed Sarawak should fully exercise its rights to education autonomy and use of the English language.

“We must project our unique socio-cultural diversity to devise a plan to make Sarawak a true nation state of intellectual excellence, with world class international universities that prioritise serving the needs of Sarawak and all her people.”

With that, See proposed the State government to take another bold step to turn UNIMAS into a state-owned government university to enable it to become a global university within the next decade.

Indeed, the state leaders should show their collective political will and stand by Adenan to overcome the obstacles in realising the Sarawakian aspiration.

It’s now time to bring out a “significant Sarawak” onto the global stage.