Don’t blame it on translations

It seems that it is not just students or fresh graduates who have poor command of English. Those tasked with the defence of our country are no better.

IT IS just a month after I wrote my article, “Solly, slip of my tang-gue” (25 Nov), about the idiosyncracies of languages and how people can get quite confused and baffled when it comes to translations.

It was a tongue-in-cheek article. I did not realise the problem was so big until this week’s news on our Defence Ministry’s translations of its dress code for its staff.

According to its official website, the ministry’s staff must not wear clothes that poke eyes. That is how they translate pakaian yang menjolok mata which is supposed to mean revealing clothes.

Berkolar baju Melayu cekak musang berbutang tiga becomes “collared shirts and tight Malay civet berbutang three”.

Baju batik lengan panjang berkolar/cekak musang buatan Malaysia is translated into “long-sleeve batik shirt with collar/mongoose fight made in Malaysia”.

“Shine closed” was translated from kasut bertutup or closed-toe shoes.

The brief summary of the ministry’s history reads: “After the withdrawal of British army, the Malaysian Government take drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat.”

It really poke (sorry, open) our eyes to our dismal command of English.

It seems that it is not just students or fresh graduates who have poor command of the language.

Those tasked with the defence of our country are no better. I shudder to think whether we can understand technical specifications and instructions of our foreign defence equipment or when we eavesdrop on enemy communications.

We are heading down the road of China in the 80s when “Comes Alive with Pepsi” was translated to mean “Pepsi brings you back from the dead”.

Still on a serious issue, as we enter 2012, the outlook of the World Economy is under close scrutiny. The Eurozone crises is still not over. It is caused principally by over borrowing and our addiction to cheap credit.

The bedrock of a modern economy is a financial system that is able to effectively mobilise savings and channel them through provision of loans and credit to other productive sectors of the economy.

Savings are put into banks and earn interest and no longer stashed under pillows and put in tin cans. These deposits are then used to extend loans to others, to start a business, to build a factory, to buy a car, a house, even for education expenses.

Well and good, otherwise most of us will never buy a car or house or start a business and create jobs.

The problem started when lenders start to lend more than they should. Then some financial genius start to repackage loans into derivatives, syndicate loans and financial instruments that I have not even heard of in my economic class not too long ago.

Also people start to borrow more than they can afford, more than their need, driven by “cheap” interest”, credit card campaigns, pre-approved loans, and easy payment schemes. “Pay only $3.33 for a new TV,” screamed the sales pitch.

Even governments are not spared and government debts ballooned, ending up in the Greek Tragedy. Now, we would like to blame lenders for being greedy and give away easy loans. We can also blame borrowers for borrowing instead of earning a living.

In Malaysia household debts have exploded. We owe everything from housing loans, credit cards, consumer loans, utilities bills, house assessment rates and of course, income tax.

Government debts are also increasing year on year. Apart from government bonds and loans, government debts include millions in unpaid traffic summonses, and property assessment rates

All these debts need to be repaid or otherwise a default is worse for the system as everyone owes everyone else something. A pound of flesh must be repaid with a pound of flesh, plus interest, no?

Creditors are coming up with new ways of collecting debts. Outsourcing to debt collection agencies is popular. Telemarketing has extended to tele-debt collecting. Some even give incentives for paying bills earlier or by scheduled credit card deductions where you get a discount (completely opposite of convenience fee charged by a low-cost airline). And of course we have the Hari Raya discount for traffic summonses.

We always hear of complaints by our local councils that they have huge amounts of assessment rates arrears not paid by property owners. Maybe I know the reason.

The Sarawak Bank Employees Union bought a shophouse in Sarikei 15 years ago. Being a new development, individual titles have yet to be issued (why it takes five years I don’t know). As a result, bills for assessment rates were still sent to the developer.

The developer unfortunately did not forward the bills to us so they remained unpaid and thus incurred penalty charges. Of course SBEU is liable to pay the assessment. Yes, we should have checked why we never received the assessment. Yes, the council should have taken the initiative to send the notice to the SBEU address especially after the first year when the bills were not paid. How big is Sarikei?

So we issued a cheque for about RM5,600 for the total assessments. We also appealed to the council to waive or reduce the penalty charges amounting to about RM1,300. We submitted the appeal letter together with our cheque.

The council rejected our appeal. We do not dispute the council’s absolute discretion to reject our appeal. What is really idiotic is that the council also returned our RM5,600 cheque.

Any creditor would quickly bank in the cheque. Any first-year law student will tell you that acceptance of the cheque does not in anyway prejudice the council’s right to claim full payment of the penalty charges from us.

“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” my kindergarten teacher used to say. So why can’t they bank in our cheque and continue to pursue us for the penalty charges?

What happens if we owed them RM5,928.72, and if we pay them cash RM5,928.71, they will also not accept the cash because it is one sen short? No wonder we have so much assessment rates arrears owed to local councils. It is no laughing matter. It’s not even funny anymore. Don’t blame it on translations.

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