The federal government is obligated to accept official letters in English from Sarawak, said Deputy Minister of Public Health, Housing and Local Government Datuk Michael Tiang.
According to him, under the law the federal government must accept all letters in English from the state.
“The federal government in fact has a duty to entertain English letters from Sarawak for official communications as the National Language Act 1963/67 was never extended to Sarawak.
“Sarawakians are therefore free to opt to use English or Malay for letters to federal government departments since both languages are official languages in Sarawak, particularly the use of English language in Sarawak is guaranteed by Article 161(3) of the Federal Constitution,” he pointed out.
Tiang was responding to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim reminding all government departments not to entertain letters written in a language other than Malay.
The Pelawan assemblyman in turn reminded Anwar that both English and Malay are official languages in Sarawak, thus his remark does not apply in the state.
He recalled that when he was in the federal court in Kuala Lumpur many years ago, the court also made it clear at that time that letters from Sarawak which were written in English could not be ignored.
“Which means we can use English in official communications and in our letters and the federal government cannot chuck them in the dustbin,” he added.
Yesterday, State Secretary Datuk Amar Mohd Abu Bakar Marzuki confirmed that the Sarawak civil service can use English in official communications.
When contacted, he said Sarawak will “not follow the reminder” made by Anwar, The Borneo Post reported.
“That does not apply in Sarawak,” Abu Bakar said.
This followed Anwar’s speech at the opening of the National Language Decade carnival and National Reading Decade in Cyberjaya yesterday, where the Prime Minister had reminded all government departments that letters from local companies or public and private universities in a language other than Malay should be returned to the sender.