Union chief wants more time for better English

The prime minister says senior civil servants must sit for an English-language proficiency test.

PETALING JAYA: English and Malay should be able to co-exist side by side in national administration, a member of the G25 group of former senior civil servants said today.

Welcoming the government’s announcement of English competency tests for civil servants, former deputy director of Sabah Foundation Johan Ariffin told FMT it was high time that the government put more emphasis on English proficiency.

Johan Ariffin

Johan, who is part of G25, the group of prominent retired civil servants, agreed with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s comment yesterday that top civil servants who are on the international stage must be able to speak English.

The prime minister said English-proficiency tests would be introduced for senior civil servants.

Johan said: “We have seen our former deputy prime minister speaking English at the United Nations. It was embarrassing not only for him but also for the country,” making reference to criticism made of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for his lack of English proficiency when speaking at the United Nations.

Civil service employees union Cuepacs also agreed with the need for good English among top civil servants.

Azih Muda

“We are close to being a developed nation. Those who are not fluent should go for intensive English courses,” Cuepacs president Azih Muda told FMT. “At the same time, we hope the government will give those who need to brush up on their English time to do so.”

Johan said Malaysia’s education policy was to blame for promoting a nationalist agenda. However, there was no reason for English to be made a secondary language. Malay and English could exist side by side, and no language should be superior to the other.

“In many countries, students are encouraged to learn second or third languages as a subject. Making it compulsory for senior civil servants is good as it will motivate them to upgrade their English language competency and improve our image abroad,” Johan said.

In February, former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah lamented in an FMT interview that Malaysia’s international standing had taken a dip to the point that Malaysians are no longer sought after for their academic and language skills.

“A lot of our people, even in the civil service, cannot even write a simple letter. I am very embarrassed. I can only point out that it is education that is pulling our people back. Who suffers? The whole country,” he had said.

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