Mariam Mokhtar | January 27, 2012
Free Malaysia Today
The inexcusable translation in our government departments is not just a question of lack of professionalism and education but, more importantly, of attitude, especially of those at the top.
Throughout Malaysia’s arms spending history, the government has forked out billions on defence procurement while millions more have allegedly been used for commissions and backhanders.
And yet the defence ministry does not see fit to apportion a tiny fraction of its massive budget on the services of a translator.
It cannot be a lack of funds or a scarcity of translators. Is it an aversion which started after one high-profile translator connected to a particular defence purchase met an untimely end?
When the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) posted its error-riddled translation on its English website to describe the dress code appropriate for staff, it received extraordinary attention on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The translations ranged from the painful sounding “Clothes that poke eye” to the more serious safety connotation of the “Malaysian Government take drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat”.
Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi admitted that his ministry had utilised the free Google online translator. He subsequently ordered the site to be removed temporarily. It is easy to blame Google.
The buck should stop with him, the minister. Was he being penny-wise, pound-foolish or is this merely lack of attention to detail? Military budgets are not just about buying the big toys. What use is the equipment if no one can translate the repair manuals for our service engineers?
It is not sufficient for Zahid to confirm that future translations will be done manually. Shouldn’t the Cabinet be looking to overhaul the whole education system and specifically the manner in which students treat their education and the learning of English? Nationalist sentiments should not override global aspirations.
Malaysia’s seemingly bottomless military budget has been spent on armaments and other defence hardware including the purchase of two Scorpene submarines at RM7.3 billion. The Scorpene deal allegedly included RM570 million on “coordination and support” services, a euphemism for “commission”, to a little-known company called Perimekar.
In the Scorpene scandal, which is now being fought in the French courts, a Mongolian model-cum- translator, Altantuya Shaaribuu, who was said to be fluent in Russian, English, Chinese and French, was later found murdered in a jungle in Shah Alam.
What about training and repair manuals?
Are the problems in Mindef the tip of the iceberg? Can Zahid reassure us that none of his men have used the free online Google translator to translate defence training or repair manuals from some foreign language to Bahasa?
The frequent waste of military hardware from crashing planes to defective equipment, has resulted in heavy loss of lives and expensive machines. The wide array of armaments from different countries, contribute towards complications in maintenance, poor operational effectiveness, stocking issues and compatibility between different systems. Could the translated manuals have posed a problem, too?
One former member of the armed forces confided, “The MiG manuals were translated from Hindi to BM. We bought the jets from Russia. MiG jets are built under licence in India for the Indian air force. The Russians must have found it easier to get the Hindi version translated instead.”
It isn’t just cyberspace where government bodies are maligned. Perak enters the New Year with the much-touted Visit Perak Year (VPY) 2012.
In 2011, the patience of hoteliers, travel agents and ordinary Perakians including politicians was tested when many claimed that very few people knew what VPY 2012 involved.
The state is hoping to receive in excess of three million visitors, both foreign and local tourists. Despite that, many tourist sites were not prepared for VPY 2012.
The ‘Ipoh Tree’ saga
In October 2011, a local Ipoh community paper, highlighted the glaring problems in the proficiency of English of the staff working at the Perak Tourist Information Centre (Pusat Pelancongan Perak) near the Ipoh Padang.
According to the paper, the Perak Tourism Information Centre, which is an extension of the Ipoh City Council’s tourism department, had an embarrassing description of the Ipoh Tree, emblazoned beneath a photograph of the tree, on display at the centre.
The full text which the paper reportedly found at the centre is reproduced here:
“The words ‘Ipoh’ makes us memorize to Ipoh Tree. Epu or Upas Tree (Antiaris Toxicarial). It can be found in many areas surrounding Ipoh City old time ago. Introduction about Ipoh tree as a place can get it from “Perak And The Malays” book author by J.F. Mcnair in 1979.
“This tree is grouping under ‘nettle’ species and can growth up until hundred feet’s tall. The primitive using the Ipoh Tree’s liquid to make a poison dart to use in their weapon. This tree also can be found in Borneo Sumatera, India and Philippine. Now days Ipoh Tree can be founded at Railway Station and D.R. Seenivasagam Park.”
Even primary school students will consider the above description, which is littered with errors, to be gibberish.
If people think that it does not matter that such things happen in a provincial city like Ipoh, then how about the gaffe which occurred when Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and his entourage visited Putrajaya? The banner flying at the welcoming ceremony was printed in inaccurate Chinese.
Or how about the court interpreter, Ting Chin Kin, who translated Teoh Beng Hock’s supposed suicide note using Google Translate?
Just like in the Mindef mess, the inexcusable translation in our government departments is not just a question of lack of professionalism and education but, more importantly, of the attitude, especially of those at the top. Incompetent officials appear to hold sway in the Malaysian civil service and Cabinet.
The top echelons should dispense with their “tidak-apa” attitude, and lead by example. If they demanded good results and accuracy, then perhaps, people might feel less inclined to say that the two important languages in Malaysia are Manglish and Malay.