PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has received flak from politicians and Malaysians alike after issuing official statements in Chinese, in a country where the official language is Malay.
Mr Lim last week issued a statement regarding financial matters related to the Tun Razak Exchange in three languages - Malay, English and Chinese.
He was attacked for deviating from the usual government practice of issuing statements in Malay only, or including an English translation on matters that might have international import.
Mr Lim on Sunday (June 24) seemed to have worsened the controversy when he defended himself by issuing a statement only in Chinese on his Facebook.
Lawyer Azhar Harun, who usually supports the actions of the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, said while the Constitution guarantees Malaysians the right to use one's mother tongue language, the official language is Bahasa Malaysia (BM).
He said in a Facebook post on Monday: "You are issuing a press statement and conducting a press conference as part of discharging your official duties.
"Don't be arrogant and dismissive of this. You are really pushing it. There's a limit to 'new Malaysia'."
Mr Azhar, popularly known as Art Harun, said Mr Lim had recently proclaimed "I am not Chinese, I am Malaysian."
Said Mr Azhar: "You are showing the wrong signal. The wrong attitude."
Mr Lim's Sunday statement in Chinese infuriated social media users and politicians as many had to rely on translation tools to understand his comments.
Former Johor menteri besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin, said he regarded Mr Lim's statement as rude, insulting and an attempt to undermine the position of the Malay language in government affairs.
"As a country that uses BM as an official language, such an action clearly does not respect the Federal Constitution and the administration of the country," he said in a statement on Monday (June 25).
Even the managing director of hypermart Mydin, Ameer Ali Mydin, criticised the minister.
Datuk Ameer added: "All statements when released in Malaysia should first be in Bahasa Malaysia, then English, then any other language necessary.
"If you are in London then I presume you will release it in English first, then the translation can be Bahasa/Mandarin/French, et cetera. If you are in China, then at a press conference in China, release it in Chinese first, then English."
Mr Lim, in his Chinese statement on Sunday, said the use of one's mother tongue is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 152 (1) of the Federal Constitution.
"In this constitutional spirit, what is wrong with the distribution of press releases in Chinese or other languages?" he said.
He dismissed the critics' remarks as "racist" and that he would not bow down to their attacks.
"The statement of the Finance Minister will continue to be published in BM and English, and if necessary, a Chinese translation will be made available. I hope that other high-ranking government officials will follow suit," he added.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Monday defended Mr Lim over the flak.
“It’s a minor mistake, I don’t want to make it an issue. Sometimes we make mistakes.
I think he issued it in three languages, but for the Chinese audience he issued a statement in Chinese, that’s all,” the Prime Minister said.
When asked whether he would advise Mr Lim not to issue any statements in Mandarin from now, Dr Mahathir said he would not do so.
“We are not going to advise. He made a mistake, not intentional. He can issue a statement where he is empowered. When the announcement should be made by him, and that’s what he has done,” said the Prime Minister.
Malaysiakini news site said that during his 10-year tenure as Penang chief minister, Mr Lim had issued bilingual statements in Malay and English, or trilingual statements on a regular basis.