Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 8 Nov 2019

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng (LGE) has asked the board of trustees of MCA-owned Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) and Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TARUC) to relinquish their posts if they want more government funding. Thus, UTAR which is ranked 2nd in Times Higher Education (THE) in Malaysia World University Rankings 2020 received only RM1 million under the 2020 Budget when it had previously received RM5.5 million for development. Lim said if MCA relinquishes its control over the institutions, Putrajaya will immediately reinstate funding of RM30 million for this year and next year.

“It is time to let them be run by professionals” he told reporters at the Parliament building today. Lim said this is in line with what Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also said, that public funds should be separated from politics. Lim said the PH government has to draw a line to ensure reforms. “If we cannot stand firm on this principle, then what can the new government do with reforms?” he asked. All this sounds very politically correct but is LGE consistent in his political correctness?

At the outset, let me put my cards on the table – I have never been an MCA supporter because I do not condone mono-ethnic political parties. I write as a committed educationist and social activist and I have also been the Principal of a community-funded tertiary institution, namely New Era College from 2000 to 2008.

Affordable tertiary education for the less well-off

For 50 years, TARUC received RM1.35 billion in matching grants but now not a single sen is given to TAR UC which is grossly unfair to its 28,000 students, who come from poor families.

In 1969, Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR) College was initiated by MCA and it was approved by the government as a quid pro quo for rejecting Merdeka University and a sop for the Chinese community as there was dire shortage of tertiary education institutions for poor and lower middle-class families from the Chinese community. The college was set up not only with the efforts of MCA but also donations from the Chinese community and Government grants. The college expanded impressively from then on and achieved university status in 2013 while receiving various academic awards. Its alumni stand at more than 200,000!

As the former Principal of New Era College, I know what it means for the less well-off to have a chance at tertiary education. I also have many friends and relatives who have benefited from a TAR College and University education. These include several DAP leaders, as well as Malay and Indian professionals. Its multi-ethnic enrolment policy is to be lauded despite the fact that the MCA is a mono-ethnic party.

Thus, on this issue of grants for TARUC, my sentiments are the same as those DAP MPs who, in November 2017 questioned the lack of funding for TARUC during the ministry’s budget 2018 wrap in the Dewan Rakyat.

The Higher Education Ministry subsequently clarified that RM30 million had been set aside for the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TARUC) in 2018. “For the year 2018, the allocation was not included in the ministry’s operational expenditure budget, but under the ministry’s management sector”.

So what has changed since 2017?

Now Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has slashed funds for the two UTAR and TARUC, providing a RM5.5mil development fund for UTAR and TAR UC but no matching grant, insisting that MCA breaks off ties with Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) and Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC) before the government provides more allocation for the two institutions.

As a former College Principal, I know that such matching grants are vital for ensuring lower student fees at both institutions and so, benefit the less well-off. So, what has changed since DAP MPs objected to funds for TARUC and UTAR being cut in 2017? Haven’t these institutions been run in the same manner since they started in the sixties? Has the Finance Minister discovered some devious changes in these education institutions since GE14? Has he consulted his DAP leaders who have been graduates of TARUC and UTAR to find out if there are complaints of political meddling by the MCA? If he has not received any such complaints, then his curtailment of grants to the two institutions is plain meanness.

Time for institutions to be run by professionals?

It is laudable that LGE has said that our nation’s institutions should be run by professionals and not by political hacks. Didn’t the Harapan government promise us that if they captured power, reforms would include ending ethnically-based policies and there would be no political appointees to professional bodies such as GLCs? Today, Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, has been channelled from the Finance Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Department, out of the control of the Finance Ministry. Furthermore, Rural and Regional Development Minister Rina Harun of Mahathir’s party, Bersatu, approved the appointment of politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control.

On Sept 1, 2018, at the Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation, Mahathir stressed the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting bumiputeras. Did LGE voice any disagreement with the PM’s statement?

Professor Terence Gomez has commented:

“However, Harapan has refused to establish an independent committee to review this extremely complex GLC network that operates at the federal and state levels. Is this reluctance because Harapan plans to similarly employ GLCs for the practice of patronage, as recent trends suggest?”

Political correctness and statesmanship

If the Finance Minister really believes in political correctness, he should cut all grants to all educational institutions such as UiTM that practice racism and racial discrimination. Now that’s being truly principled and meets the conditions of ICERD that the DAP supports.

It’s time the PH leaders focus on the big picture and stop taking the old opposition stance when the MCA only has one MP in Parliament. If TARUC and UTAR are contributing toward helping the less well-off gain a degree and a better life, why put obstacles in their way? PH should be trying to outdo the BN by providing more assistance to all tertiary institutions that are contributing to our nation’s economy and educational progress, not cutting their grants that had been provided by the BN all these years.

To enable our less well-off Malaysian students the opportunity to access affordable tertiary education, I would hope that PH leaders learn to be statesmen rather than politicians. As James Freeman Clarke has said, “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.”

Hunter Thompson was more brutal:

“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.” —

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