Urgent email to Mahathir, Cabinet and Penang Exco to accord official recognition to International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21 and emulate Luxemburg which is rich and developed because of its trilingualism

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday): I have on behalf of the DAP, sent an urgent email this morning to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, all Cabinet Ministers, Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon and all Penang State Executive Councillors to accord official recognition to the fourth International Mother Language Day which falls on February 21 on Friday.

In my email to Mahathir and Cabinet Ministers, I said:

"In November 1999, Malaysia was one of the 28 countries which supported the Bangladesh proposal at the 30th General Conference of the UNESCO resulting in the unanimous adoption of a Resolution declaring 21st February as International Mother Language Day (ILMD).

"The UNESCO resolution said the recognition was given bearing in mind that all moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness about linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

"Although the world marked the new millennium in 2000 by observing 21st February as the International Mother Language Day, Malaysia had never done so in the past three years despite being a seconder of the Bangladesh proposal at the historic 1999 UNESCO Conference to proclaim the International Mother Language Day.

"Malaysia is the home of several mother-tongues, making the country the most ideal place to lead the world in celebrating the International Mother Language Day with verve, vigour and imagination.

"In the era of globalization and information and communications technology, one essential prerequisite to position Malaysia at the cutting edge of international competitiveness is to promote and popularize trilingualism for all Malaysians, grounded on the mastery of the mother-tongue, the national language and English as the international language.

"The Prime Minister has great admiration for Luxemburg after his visit to the country in June last year, a developed and rich country he wants Malaysia to emulate. Luxemburg is one country which has achieved the goal of promoting trilingualism a long time ago. It has been said that if Luxemburgers are told that they could 'afford the luxury' of having three languages because they are rich, Luxemburgers would respond that they're rich precisely because they're rooted in trilingualism.

"It is a major government oversight that the International Mother Language Day has not been observed in Malaysia in the past three years.

"It might be too late for the Federal Government to organize a full-scale programme to celebrate the fourth International Mother Language Day this year on Friday. The least that should be done, however, is for the Cabinet on Wednesday to accord official recognition for the commemoration of the International Mother Language Day in Malaysia on every February 21, accompanied by an International Mother Language Day 2003 Message by the Prime Minister - which could be regarded as a celebrations of sorts of a 'better late than never' observance of the IMLD.

"It is hoped that this email appeal to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet could result in a positive Cabinet decision on Wednesday for Malaysia to join the international community to observe February 21 as the International Mother Language Day."

I have also sent urgent emails to Koh and the Penang State Exco members asking the State Exco at its meeting on Wednesday to live up to the state motto of "Penang Leads" by being the first state government in Malaysia to officially observe the fourth IMLD.

In fact, there is no reason why the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) and the Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) cannot be the first local governments in the country to accord formal recognition to and celebrate the IMLD - which could be turned into a boost for the declining tourism in Penang.

The Penang State Exco at its meeting on Wednesday should also direct the MPPP and MPSP to pioneer the recognition and commemoration of the IMLD in the country.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman