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Contesting language and quota

FROM 25 to 31 Oct 2008, the Chinese media highlighted the use of multilingual signboards in DAP-led Penang; Datuk Liow Tiong Lai’s suggestion to review the 30% target for bumiputra equity ownership; and unemployment of local workers.

She Rong Kun’s 30 Oct commentary in Kwong Wah e-Newspaper said the original purpose of putting up multilingual signboards in heritage areas in Georgetown was to promote tourism. 

However, because of narrow-minded political ideology, a measure that was supposed to benefit the public has been politicised to the point that it has become a “sensitive issue”.

“The Penang government’s plan to have multilingual signboards in the next two months has become an uphill task thanks to politicians playing up the issue,” said She in his piece, The obstacles for multilingual signboards.

He noted that streets with multilingual signboards were not new. For the past 20 years, Sibu has had Chinese language, and Johor Jawi-inscripted signboards.

On 24 Oct, the Penang government approved the Municipal Council of Penang Island (MPPP)’s application to have road signs in Jawi, Tamil and Chinese, in addition to the Bahasa Malaysia signs, in Georgetown heritage areas.

However, Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said the use of multilingual road signs would create confusion in a multiracial country.

She said it was obvious that Shafie and Umno were trying to politicise the issue. From the beginning, She noted that the Malay press tried to whip up sentiments by publishing protests against the use of multilingual signboards.

“This created a misunderstanding in the Malay community that the Chinese language is more important than Malay,” said She.

He stressed that neither the DAP- nor Gerakan-suggested multilingual signboards were intended to overshadow the importance of the Malay language. He said the other languages would be placed below Malay, hence demonstrating respect to the national language.

Equity quota

Oriental Daily‘s published a report on 30 Oct titled Chua Soi Lek supports Liow in opening up bumiputera quota, in which MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said party vice-president Datuk Liow Tiong Lai’s proposal to review the 30% equity quota for bumiputera was not a denial of or challenge to Malay special rights.

“Malay special rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, and nobody can take them away. The Malay community should not worry, and Umno should not have overreacted,” said Chua.

Chua admitted that many Umno leaders have called him to express their uneasiness about working with the MCA’s new leadership.

“I assured them that there is no problem about cooperation. But I also reminded them that after the March 2008 general election, people want change. They hope to see the government and Umno becoming more open and fair in dealing with issues,” said Chua.

Chua argued that in view of the international economic crisis, it is important to review Malaysia’s equity structure to strengthen the economy and attract more foreign investments.

He also urged Umno leaders not to play up sentiments about Malay special rights.

Chua also condemned former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for issuing misleading statements, saying that Malays and non-Malays’ interests were guaranteed under the Constitution.

Employment woes

Sin Chew Daily‘s editorial on 29 Oct cited International Labour Organisation statistics that said about 20 million people globally would likely be retrenched by the end of 2009.

The editorial, titled Let local workers grab job opportunities, said Malaysia’s inflation rate hit 8.2% in September 2008, and statistics show that inflation is worsening. As a result, many companies may close down and start to retrench workers.

The article said as the unemployment rate increases, the government should reduce the number of foreign workers in Malaysia to create more job opportunities for locals.

It noted that the government is already planning to decrease the number of foreign workers from the current 2.1 million to 1.8 million in 2010. “As a result, within the next two years, the authorities expect to create 300,000 new jobs to solve the unemployment problem. But it is not as easy as that,” the editorial said.

It was also reported that half of the foreign workers in the country are undocumented. “The authorities are unable to detain all of them. So, how are they going to ‘retrench’ them?” said the editorial, noting that the lack of enforcement and regulations in managing foreign workers had resulted in a predicament for the government.

The article said the high inflation and high unemployment rate are affecting the quality of life for the lower-income group.

“The government should not take the issue lightly by merely retrenching foreign workers to create jobs for locals. What is needed is an overhaul of the labour market,” said the editorial.

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