Sabah 20-Point Agreement: Language

Colonial passport for the colonised people of North Borneo
For the previous installment on religion, please click HERE.

 

Dr Jeffrey Kitingan also raised the point on language on pages 11-12 of his book, ‘The 20 Points – Basis for Federal – State Relations for Sabah, 1987′.  Language was the second point of the 20-Point Memorandum put forth before Malaysia was formed.

His points were, that:

  1. Malay should be the national language of the Federation;
  2. English should continue to be used for a period of ten years after Malaysia Day;
  3. English should be the official language of North Borneo, for all purposes, State or Federal, without limitation of law.

Dr Jeffrey wrote that it was Tun Mustapha’s administration that had changed the status of English by passing a bill and introducing a new clause 11A into the State Constitution, making Bahasa Malaysia the officia language of the State Cabinet and the State Legislative Assembly.

At the same time, he claimed, the National Language (Application) Enactment, 1973 was passed purporting to approve the extension of an Act of Parliament terminating or restricting the use of English for other official purposes in Sabah.

He also said that the National Language Act, 1963/67 was only amended in 1983 to allow it to be extended to Sabah by a State enactment, but no such enactment had been passed.  Therefore, the National Language Act, 1963/67 is still not in force in Sabah.

He claims that the amendments hae brought about the following consequences:

  1. Many civil servants who were schooled in English are employed as temporary or contract officers because of their inability to pass the Bahasa Malaysia examination.
  2. The change in the medium of instruction in schools have affected the standard of teaching due to lack of qualified Bahasa Malaysia teachers.
  3. The teaching of other native languages has been relegated to the background.

Now, let us see what the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC), the Cobbold Commission, the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) as well as the Federation of Malaysia Agreement had to say about the points raised above.

Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) Memorandum

On Page 122 of the MSCC Memorandum, the Committee accepted that the Federation should have a national language and placed no objection to the adoption of the National Language of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore and Brunei (the Malay language) as it is the lingua franca of the region.

However, the MSCC had asked the Parliament to make provision for the English language to remain to be used for a period of TEN YEARS after the formation of the new Federation in 1963.  This is in light of the same period given to the states in the Federation of Malaya in the Federation of Malaya Constitution that is TEN YEARS after 1957.

The Cobbold Commission

According to the Report of the Commission of Enquiry, North Borneo and Sarawak (the Cobbold Commission) dated 21 June 1962 on page 54, the objection to the use of Bahasa Melayu as the language of the Federation and its application to North Borneo and Sarawak are matters that the people of the two states should resolve themselves when fully-elected representative bodies have been constituted.

The Chairman and members from Malaya do not think that their opinion of Bahasa Melayu being the language closest to those spoken in the region and therefore should be the lingua franca should not offend the non-Malays and any derogation from the Federal provision is necessary.

On the issue of official languages the Cobbold Commission found that there is majority support for both Bahasa Melayu and English to be used as the official languages in both the Borneo states without any time limit.  This was the view of the Chairman of the Commission and its British members.

The members from Malaya however thought that with MALAYSIA in total consideration such provision cannot be accepted as it breaches the existing provisions in the Federation of Malaya Constitution.  Therefore the Malayan members recommend that a provision be made without affecting the position of Bahasa Melayu as the official language of the Federation where English shall continue to be an official language in the states of North Borneo and Sarawak along with Bahasa Melayu for a period of ten years after the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia.

This shall continue until such time the Federal government in consultation with the State governments provides otherwise.  The same was recommended for application to the indigenous languages used in debates and discussions in the respective state assemblies.

The Chairman and the British members however opined that there should be no time limit applied to the indigenous languages, until and unless the State governments decide otherwise.

The Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC)

The IGC on Page 26 of its report recommended that Bahasa Melayu be made the official language of the Federation of Malaysia but Article 152 of the Constitution should be modified for its application to the Borneo states as follows:

  1. For a period of TEN YEARS after Malaysia Day and until the State Assemblies provide otherwise, English becomes an official language not just for the State Assemblies but also in other official purposes of both State and Federal, including correspondences with Ministries and Federal departments.
  2. For a period of TEN YEARS after Malaysia Day and until the Parliament of Malaysia provides otherwise, English shall be allowed to be used by representatives from the Borneo states in both Houses of Parliament.
  3. For a period of TEN YEARS after Malaysia Day and until both State Assemblies provide otherwise, all proceedings in the Supreme Court for cases involving cases from the Borneo states and all proceedings in the High Courts of both Borneo States shall be conducted in English.
  4. Until the State Assemblies provide otherwise all proceedings in the subordinate Courts in the Borneo states other than the taking of evidence, shall be in English.

Of course at the end of it all parties agreed upon something hence the Federation of Malaysia Agreement, 1963 was signed.  So what does the Agreement say?

Federation of Malaysia Agreement, 1963

Taking into account the recommendations and points made in the MSCC, the Cobbold Commission and the IGC, the Federation of Malaysia Agreement, 1963 on pages 42 and 43 made provisions that no Act of Parliament terminating or restricting the use of English for the purposes stated below shall come until TEN YEARS after Malaysia Day:

  1. the use of the English language by the representatives from the Borneo states in either house of Parliament,
  2. the use of the English language for proceedings in the High and Subordinate Courts of Borneo until the State Assemblies provide for otherwise, or for proceedings in the Federal Court that involves cases from the Borneo states,
  3. the use of the English language in the Borneo states in the Legislative Assemblies or for other official purpose including the purpose of the Federal Government,
  4. the use of native languages in the native courts and in the case of Sarawak, the use of native languages in the State Assembly until otherwise provided for by an Enactment of the legislature.

During the Tun Mustapha Administration the status of the English language was altered in a bill by inserting a new clause called Clause 11A into the Sabah State Constitution, 1989 (pages 17-18), making Bahasa Malaysia as the official language of the Sabah Cabinet and of the State Legislative Assembly.

The content of this Clause is as follows:

“Without prejudice to clause (8) of Article 24, the official language of the State Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly shall be in Bahasa Malaysia:

Provided that:-

a) notwithstanding the provisions of this Article, the English language may be used for such period and for such purposes as may for the time be provided by or in accordance with Article 152 of the Federal Constitution; and

b) an official English version shall be provided of anything which is required to be printed or reduced into writing and may be published in the Gazzette.”

However, Jeffrey disputes the passing of the National Language (Application) Enactment, 1973 that allegedly allows the application of an Act of Parliament to terminate or restrict the use of the English language for other official purposes in Sabah.  This preceded the National Language Act 1963/67 that was only amended in 1983 to allow it to be applied to Sabah through a state enactment.  Nonetheless, there was no state enactment on the matter that was passed as of 1991.  As such, as of 1991 the National Language Act, 1963/67 was still not enforced in Sabah.

Based on the Federation of Malaysia Agreement (Malaysia Agreement), 1963, it is clear that the position of the English language as an official language can be altered TEN YEARS after Malaysia Day.  It was put into force through a law that was enacted by the State Legislative Assembly of Sabah in 1973.  Having said that, no specific enactment was passed as of 1991 to enforce the National Language (Amendments and Extension) Act, 1983 in Sabah.

Jeffrey Kitingan’s assumptions and allegation pertaining the illegality of the National Language Act, 1963/67 and State Enactment No.7, National Language (Application) Enactment, 1973 which preceded the National Language (Amendments and Extension) Act, 1983 by ten years was more of playing a regional sentiment especially in the context of teaching and learning of the indigenous languages in Sabah.

Questioning the use of Bahasa Malaysia as the official language after 27 years of Sabah being part of the Federation of Malaysia clearly displays the arrogance on Jeffrey’s part, and his refusal to accept the fact that the Bahasa Malaysia is the reflection of the spirit of the people of Malaysia that forms a bridge for all races towards national integration.

In the next installment, we shall talk about the third point – CONSTITUTION.

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