Monday, March 06, 2006

RM Billion Char Koay Teow Affair (2)

In the world of Malaysia’s Chinese education, the headmaster (or principal) of a Chinese language school has been traditionally a most revered personality. School students and their parents would accord due respect to the headmasters whenever they meet the school’s head, even after school hours. Some parents even refer the non-educational problems of their wayward sons to the ‘wisdom’ of the headmasters, sometimes even deferring disciplinary measures to their discretion.

In a Chinese village such encounters between headmaster and parents would even see a small traditional bow of respect for the revered teacher. Respect, respect & respect! Education is so important to the Chinese community that the figure in charge of their children’s education invariably becomes a highly respected personality.

But this person of traditional respect has taken a sever bashing recently, following the accusations of grubby corruption, where some headmasters have allegedly pocketed the commissions from school textbooks purchases. The commissions or discounts could be as high as 50% but just allowing for an average 30%, the total commission per annum works out to a staggering RM150 million. The hugh amount seems to make the allegation even more sensational. We know that such staggering sums of money would tempt even a saint so there’s added plausibility to the allegations. A Chinese community leader has been so outraged that he has offered a reward of half a million ringgit for evidence of the alleged private profiteering.

The two most powerful organisations in the Malaysian Chinese-education world, the Dong Zong (United Chinese School Committees Association) and Jiao Zong (United Chinese School Teachers Association) - together combining into the powerful Dong Jiao Zong, sometimes the bane of the Malaysian Education Ministry – want some accounting from the Federation of Chinese School Headmasters (FCSH).

The Dong Jiao Zong has looked after the welfare of Chinese school students for years and now feels annoyed that the commissions from sales of Chinese school textbooks haven’t gone into the general welfare fund. It wants to know whether the allegations are true, that the sum has gone into the personal pockets of individual school headmasters. Thus, it organised a meeting with the headmasters’ organisation in Klang yesterday but the FCSH pulled out of the meeting at the last minute, claiming there were 50 demonstrators at the hotel lobby of the agreed venue. Surely the FCSH could come up with a better excuse?

Dong Zong chairperson Dr Yap Sin Tian briefed reporters that the Education Acts of 1957, 1961 and 1996 recognise the authority and legitimacy of Chinese school committee over the school properties including canteen, bookstore, school hall and bank account. He called upon the Education Ministry to announce the Chinese school committee bill so that the issues may be discussed by Chinese education organisations, to avoid the sort of scandals or alleged impropriety that are now plaguing the Chinese education scene.

I am not too sure whether the government will play ball as it sure as hell doesn’t like the Dong Jiao Zong [or at least it didn’t during Dr Mahathir’s days]. Perhaps the new PM may be a bit more sympathetic.

The MCA and its controlled Chinese press are bunkering down for cover, because some of the Chinese press have been the vendors of the Chinese school textbooks. Because of their involvement, the Chinese community leader who offered a bounty of half a million ringgit for evidence leading to the scalp of any headmaster, has complained that most of the mainstream Chinese newspapers have refused to accept his advertised reward. I think the Chinese press has been very foolish in avoiding this issue because it won’t go away. And they shouldn’t worry about who pockets the commissions from the sales because they will continue to be the vendors.

But I predict that, unless the MCA acts with alacrity as a partner in the government to hand over the authority of Chinese schools’ commercial transaction back into the hands of an educationally benevolent organisation like the Dong Zong, instead of allowing the current uncertainty which has led to the allegations of corruption, it may face difficulties in the 2008 general elections. Not only will the DAP be eyeing its vulnerability in this vital issue, but the Gerakan Party, which has degenerated into nothing more than a mainly Chinese–based party, will be more than happy to step in as the new champion of the Chinese community’s educational needs.

Education [in any language medium, not just Chinese] has always been one of the central pillars of Chinese culture. But because of the shoddy standards of mainstream Malaysian schools, the Chinese language medium schools have assumed a far greater significance than it ought to have. As they say, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king! But regardless of the historical reasons for its evolution into such importance in Chinese Malaysian lives, woe betides the Chinese political parties who don’t support the aspirations of Chinese Malaysian mums and dads.

RM Billion Char Koay Teow Affair


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