PUTRAJAYA: Signalling a major policy change over defence and administrative issues, the Prime Minister has outlined several initiatives that the Government will undertake from now on.
For starters, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad does not want warships on either the Straits of Malacca or the South China Sea.
In doing so, Dr Mahathir has sent a strong message to superpowers, such as the United States and China, that Malaysia wish to remain neutral over their desire to control the region.
To ensure better spending of public funds, he has enlisted the help of former auditor-general Tan Sri Ambrin Buang to head a high-level committee to look into the procurement of government supplies, starting with the Defence Ministry.
In a move to improve the running of the public sector, Dr Mahathir said top civil servants would have to sit for an English competency test, signalling a major initiative in pushing for the language to be part of the civil administration.
“We consider English a very important language and it must be mastered by all high-ranking civil servants. These top officers must have a strong command of English because they always have to deal with foreigners,” Dr Mahathir said at a press conference after chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday.
Instantly, former civil servants lauded the move, as many felt that government officers today were less proficient in English and as such, could not work as well as the seniors before them.
Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, for instance, said that it was important for civil servants at all levels to master the English language.
“It’s a good idea and it’s about time that this was introduced. Thailand and Vietnam are catching up very fast and we don’t want to be left behind,” said Dr Rebecca.
The former International Trade and Industry Ministry secretary-general said Miti staff in particular had to undergo English language training as the ministry was involved in a lot of international work, drafting agreements and statements that required a high level of proficiency in the language.
Former Malaysia’s Permanent Representative to United Nations Tan Sri Hasmy Agam concurred.
“It’s a fantastic idea. In this globalised age, we have to be proficient in English at all levels.
“If you are a civil servant and you are not proficient in English, you can’t participate much at the international level,” he said.
Hasmy said apart from top civil servants, proficiency in English should also be emphasised in schools and universities as well.
“If Malaysia is aspiring to join the ranks of developed countries, we have to start now.
“A Malaysian would be more patriotic if he or she can communicate in international languages, in this case English, when representing the country’s interests abroad.
“Negotiations in diplomacy, trade, labour – you have to negotiate in English,” he added.
Both Dr Rebecca and Hasmy said that the younger generation of civil servants were less proficient in English due to different mediums used in schools.
“We have to do it (English language training) for the younger ones coming into the service because they went through a Malay-medium education,” said Dr Rebecca.