KUCHING, June 24 — Selangau MP Baru Bian slams the proposal to punish those who “disrespect” Bahasa Malaysia (BM) by slapping a hefty fine or imprisonment, deeming it as an “irrational argument”.

He asserted that the proposed move by the federal government was another manifestation of the high handedness of government officials and agencies.

“I could hardly believe it when I read the statement by the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) Prof Datuk Seri Awang Sariyan, saying that those who disrespect the national language can be fined up to RM50,000 or sentenced to imprisonment through amendments to the DBP Act 1959.

“It was even more mind-boggling to read his justification that the proposed penalty is not for punishment but to evoke love and patriotism to the country.

“In 2017, it was reported that Putrajaya might enforce a fine of up to RM1,000 to anyone found guilty of using incorrect Bahasa Malaysia (BM) in public notices and advertisements, including those posted online. The proposed fine this time has been increased to RM50,000,” he said in a statement today.

Baru asked what the term “disrespect” encompasses as the word was a commonly used word which is open to a wide range of interpretations, adding that it is highly subjective whether a particular action or utterance is disrespectful.

“Something that is produced as an art form may be viewed as disrespectful by some others. Will the usage of English words be considered disrespectful?

“All languages evolve continuously, and many BM words are adopted from the English language — this is necessary where there are no equivalent words in Bahasa Malaysia for the term.

“This is especially true in the scientific and technical fields. Would some people consider these adaptations as disrespectful?”

He added that he could not fathom how punishing someone for a perceived disrespect of the BM language can evoke love for the country as love for the country and patriotism should be nurtured by the leaders of the country by showing care, concern and respect for the rights of all citizens of the country.

If all citizens are treated well, and accorded the same fairness, equality and justice regardless of race and religion, he said love and patriotism will be a natural response within each person’s breast — and this cannot be forced by punishment and coercion as such punitive measures could have the opposite effect of breeding resentment and contempt.

As such, he said promoting the national language through education would be far more effective than treating citizens like schoolchildren and threatening them with punishment for not conforming to some people’s ideas of “respectful” behaviour.

Meanwhile, he said in Sarawak, the rights to use English as its second official language was established as one of the rights reserved to us under the Malaysia Agreement — and this was further safeguarded in Article 161 in Part 12A of the Federal Constitution and this right has never been relinquished by the state.

He said the Sarawak government encourages the people to excel in English, as it is recognised as the lingua franca of the world, and mastery of the English language is necessary for the people to be global players in all fields.

“Premier of Sarawak Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg had announced that our state civil servants have the liberty to use English in official letters. Would the continued use of English by Sarawakians be considered ‘disrespectful’ by DBP?

“Sarawakians would be better disposed towards DBP if they could engage in constructive nation-building such as reviving the Borneo Literature Bureau (BLB) which, in the past, produced quality publications including textbooks, in English, BM and our Sarawakian ethnic languages.

“The BLB also actively encouraged and promoted local authors until it was taken over by DBP in 1977, which saw it subsequently ending operations.

“In the spirit of Keluarga Malaysia, DBP should recognise that the ethnic languages of Sarawak and Sabah must be protected and preserved so that our traditions and cultures can be passed on to the future generations,” he said. — Borneo Post