Fri, 22 Aug 2003

Priceless proposal by govt

Doubtless, Sari Setiogi's front-page article Learn to speak Bahasa Indonesia or pack your bags! (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 15) is fodder for further bewilderment as to the priorities of the government at a time of national crisis. The article describes the government's latest bright idea to subject all foreigners working or studying in Indonesia to a mandatory proficiency test in Bahasa Indonesia, the aims being to promote communication between expatriates and Indonesians and to see Bahasa rank as a major global language. Well, it certainly gave me a good laugh.

Does Dendy Sugono (Director of the Language Center of the Ministry of National Education) really think foreigners favor postings in Singapore and Malaysia over Indonesia merely because they can't get to grips with the language here? (It wouldn't possibly have anything to do with the perception that Indonesia is not exactly the safest of havens right now, would it?).

However honorable a dream, does he really think Bahasa Indonesia can make a stab at ranking as a major world language like English, French, Mandarin or German or, more to the point, that setting mandatory language tests and expecting prospective workers to be fluent before they enter the country is the way to achieve this? Does Dendy actually understand how languages are best learned -- in the country the language is spoken?

To give him his due, he does acknowledge that the test might have a negative impact on foreign investment as companies may be reluctant to fork out extra to cover government charges for the proficiency test (in addition to the fortune already spent on tightened security).

Maybe they will choose to invest in Singapore and Malaysia instead? (Wasn't that one of the reasons for setting the test in the first place? It doesn't take long to see the loopholes in this plan does, it?).

As many expatriates spent recent Independence weekend closeted at home in the wake of the Marriott Hotel bombing and fresh warnings of further terrorist attacks, the timing of Ms. Setiogi's article is ironically priceless. It must surely prompt foreigners and Indonesians alike to seriously question the logic of this government when the biggest threat to communication and international confidence in Indonesia is terrorism.

Haven't these leaders anything better to do with their time? Get real, Dendy.