GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - All schools in Malaysia's state of Penang have been banned from joining state-level National Day celebrations until further instruction from the Education Ministry - due to a word in this year's slogan for the state.
Penang Deputy Chief Minister (II) P. Ramasamy said he was told that the state Education Department had found fault with the use of the word "bersih" in the National Day slogan.
"That surprised me. Our slogan this year is 'bersih, cekap dan amanah' (clean, efficient and trustworthy). What is the problem?" he asked.
Prof Ramasamy said he suspected that the Department was concerned that the use of the word "bersih" would be linked to the Bersih 4.0 rally slated for Aug 29 and 30.
"This is a national celebration of our country's best event. In past years, schools and federal bodies have paraded with state agencies happily. Why mar it with politics?" he said.
When contacted, an official from the state Education Department communications unit confirmed that its director Osman Hussain sent a directive to all schools on Thursday, dated Tuesday, forbidding them from joining the state National Day celebrations until the ministry gives further instructions.
This letter has since been leaked and is going viral on social media.
State assembly speaker Law Choo Kiang, who is the state National Day celebrations organising chairman, said the move was irrational.
"Instead of encouraging schools to parade and show their patriotism, the Ministry blocks them. What message are they sending to schoolchildren?" he questioned.
However, the state is sticking to its chosen theme of despite the ban on schools taking part in state-level National Day celebrations this year, pending a ministry decision.
"The state secretary will inform the Education Ministry and if they ban, then we will pursue further," Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who is on a working visit to Hong Kong, wrote in a text message. "Let them declare 'bersih, cekap dan amanah' illegal."
Prof Ramasamy said the theme was decided by the state exco last week.
"Please don't equate the slogan with the Bersih movement. For the last seven years, the state has always had a different theme from the Federal Government. We are not organising our own Merdeka celebrations.
"This is a national activity under different themes," he told a press conference at his office on Friday.
Penang Education Department director Datuk Osman Hussain