On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Big deal, and more to come

On The Beat

IT’S a big deal – the RM50mil direct financial assistance to Chinese schools under the government’s economic stimulus.

The decision is unprecedented as the money will go straight to the boards of directors.

With a stroke of the pen, the move means cutting down the layers of red tape and allowing school managements to have a greater say in the running of the schools.

The unprecedented move means greater democratisation for these school boards as such an allocation is tantamount to “the biggest test of trust” given by the Government to the Chinese schools.

But more importantly, it is a reaffirmation of the Government’s stand to protect vernacular schools.

No doubt, there will be criticisms surrounding the timing of the announcement on Thurs­day, so close to the Kuala Terengganu by-election. But the point is this – regardless of the outcome of the contest, the money will still go to these schools.

Last week, Najib said a total of 237 Chinese schools nationwide would receive a total of RM27mil, adding that the rest would be given out in due time.

The funding includes various payments for development, improvement works and equipment purchases.

Najib went a step further – the money must be used by the end of the year. That means more funds should be coming next year.

More to benefit

Next on the list would be missionary schools, Tamil schools and schools in Sabah and Sara­wak.

In fact, many reporters missed an important point – for the first time, the RM200mil package for schools announced by Najib in Novem­ber would be split equally among the national schools, vernacular schools, Islamic religious schools and missionary schools.

The direct funding also means schools would no longer have to depend on the Works Department (JKR) and relevant authorities who appoint their own contractors to carry out renovations and expansion in schools.

There have been plenty of complaints of delays, cost overruns, use of shoddy material and sub-standard work in the past. In all these instances, the schools have little or no say at all, even if at times they suspect possible waste and corruption.

In 2005, a teacher in SJK (C) Keat Hwa, Alor Setar, was killed when the wooden flooring on the school’s second floor gave way as it was heavily infested with termites.

Two years ago, for example, Datuk Seri Hisham­muddin Tun Hussein Onn, expressed his disgust that the JKR took 10 years to build a school in Rawang.

In fact, MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat was censured in 2006 for speaking up against shoddy work by a contractor at the Kung Yu school in Muar, Johor, when he was Deputy Higher Education Minister.

The school was billed RM30,000 for work valued at only RM3,000 and worse, it was a patchy job.

No one should put up with this nonsense as our students and teachers should not be exposed to these risks in schools.

It is good that the problems have been pursued and a proper solution identified as it now means the schools themselves can select the best contractors who can offer the best prices.

For a long time, many Chinese schools preferred to rely on the community, businessmen and the MCA for fund raising but the direct funding is a shot in the arm.

It is pertinent also to note that the funds will go to the board of directors instead of the Parent Teachers Association, as accountability is important since money is involved.

In small schools, where such boards do not exist, obviously some form of mechanism needs to be worked out.

Despite the occasional erratic outbursts by some politicians on vernacular schools, the latest commitment by Najib shows that the working relationship between Umno, the MCA and the MIC has been consistently strong.

There are bound to be hiccups and unhappiness even in the best marriages, but it has been tested partnership.

Moderation works

At times, the method of working has been put to the test with component parties reluctant to shout about their inputs and work in closed-door Cabinet meetings.

The result is that the MCA is sometimes seen as subservient but while the politics of consensus has worked, the political landscape has changed radically over the past years.

The young electorate expect their leaders to speak up and MCA leaders in the mould of Ong Tee Keat, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai and Dr Wee Ka Seong who dare to speak their mind are needed in the party.

The Chinese schools, with their high standards of teaching and discipline, have produced some of the best leaders at political and corporate levels.

MCA leaders have had to balance the demands of Chinese educationists and the pressure of Malay nationalists but moderation has succeeded again.

The direct funding would be to help all schools equally, and not just Chinese schools. For example, missionary schools, which have a strong tradition and history, need all the help they can get.