Dilapidated schools: Sarawak held to ransom

A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for
the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world.
It was a perfect act.
– Mahatma Gandhi, Indian activist

It all started well for Sarawak’s dilapidated schools when newly-minted Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik came to visit on Sept 7 2018.

“I cried when I saw the conditions of these schools,” he said of his visit to schools in Simunjan and Sadong Jaya in Samarahan.

A grown-up person crying isn’t a lovely sight to see; even less so if that grown-up person is a minister.

So when Dr Maszlee cried, Sarawakians were like—finally we have someone who feels for our schools and children.

On 20 Feb 2019, Dr Maszlee came yet again, and this time he spoke of having given Sarawak RM100 million from the federal government to repair 33 schools in in the state.

He said the money had been channelled to the Public Works Department (JKR).

This time he met Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and Sarawak Education Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Jawong.

“We achieved several outcomes,” Dr Maszlee, smiling from ear to ear, (obviously he didn’t cry this time) said of that meeting.

One of the outcomes of that meeting was the RM1 billion that the state government offered as loan to the federal government.

The Sarawak government made that offer because it took pity on the federal government, which was struggling with financial constraints, and because it wanted to speed up addressing the issue of dilapidated schools for the sake of the children and teachers.

By last May Sarawak was ready to make ‘advance payment’ of the RM1 billion loan offer to the federal government. This was mentioned by the chief minister himself who went on to reveal that a discussion was held with Dr Maszlee in hope that the dilapidated schools could be repaired or rebuilt speedily.

“A formula is being worked out … for the first payment, the Sarawak government will disburse RM300 million, the second payment another RM300 million and the third payment RM400 million; RM1 billion in two years.

“In fact, we are ready with the cheques,” the chief minister was quoted as saying.

There is no doubting Dr Maszlee’s genuine interest in wanting to see the rotting schools made good. There is no reason to believe those tears of his were crocodile tears seeing that he kept coming to the state and meeting up with the state leaders over the issue.

The problem does not lie with Dr Maszlee; neither does it lie with the state government.

On July 6, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng came up with a statement that said the Sarawak government had not officially responded to a procedure the RM1 billion loan offer must go through before the federal government could accept it.

The following day the chief minister responded, saying the Sarawak government had already discussed with the federal government through Dr Maszlee and both parties had agreed in principle.

“We have also sent a letter (regarding the matter) to the Ministry of Finance (MOF),” the chief minister was quoted as saying, adding if there were changes to the initial agreement with Dr Maszlee when they met in May, he had yet to be notified.

Clearly, any dilly-dally in addressing the issue of the state’s dilapidated schools isn’t because Sarawak government or Dr Maslzee is not serious about it.

The problem is the finance minister.

As usual he just cannot help playing politics and politicising things that can make Sarawak government look bad to its people.

Earlier, he said Sarawak could go bankrupt in three years if Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) continues to rule the state. In the latest issue he said Sarawak was not responsive.

The fact is the finance minister is not being proactive, and this is unfortunate because Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has yet to show any interest in Sarawak’s dilapidated schools.

He has not made any direct effort to intervene while Sarawak could only deal with Dr Maszlee who does not seem to have the kind of power he needs to be able to make decisions on his own.

I must say Malaysia today is being run not by the prime minister but by the finance minister — at least in the matter of Sarawak’s dilapidated schools.