School issue politics at its worst

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg did not mince words on Sunday when he asked Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng to fulfil his end of the deal.

It’s one lousy deal. Can’t recall similar deals made in the past between the federal government and any of the states within the federation.

But it happened to Sarawak and all because the state is gravely concerned with the dilapidated state of her more than a thousand schools.

Sarawak wants urgent resolution simply because the learning and teaching environment in these schools is extremely bad.

When the federal government said it had no money, the state proposed to give it an advance of RM1 billion, but then the finance minister said Sarawak should pay its RM2.4 billion federal loan.

Education and schools are federal matters, yet Sarawak is being held at ransom and it is the only state so treated.

Federal loans to the states are a practice provided for by the Constitution. Therefore, all states do have debts with the central government. Perhaps the finance minister should make known the debts of all the states and their repayment records to see where Sarawak stands in this issue.

In the matter of the dilapidated schools, Putrajaya agreed to accept the RM1 billion as part of the state government’s federal loan repayment.

On August 4, the chief minister said Sarawak had paid Putrajaya RM350 million, the first of three payments for the RM1 billion.

“Now that the state government has paid the money to Putrajaya, I hope the federal government will implement what they have promised,” the chief minister was quoted as saying.

One would expect immediate response from Putrajaya or the finance minister, but there was none.

There was no acknowledgement of receipt, let alone a ‘thank you’.

On Aug 13, Sarawak Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Michael Manyin told reporters of his meeting with Education Minister Maszlee Malik “last week”. Manyin said in that meeting Maszlee told him the Education Ministry could not proceed until it received a directive from the Finance Ministry.

“The tender is not out because there’s no instruction from the finance minister yet,” stressed Manyin.

Aug 13 is nine days after the chief minister said Sarawak had settled the RM350 million, meaning the week after that settlement the Education Ministry was still waiting for that directive.

From Aug 13 nothing was said until the chief minister demanded Putrajaya fulfil its end of the deal on Aug 24.

“However, till now, no repair work on the dilapidated schools in Sarawak has been implemented,” he said.

When asked, Guan Eng’s answer was that a committee needed to be established first. “Pembulak (liar),” the chief minister was quoted as having said during a town hall session at Lundu Community Hall.

That got the finance minister in the news, telling all and sundry the next day that the repair work had begun “in earnest on Aug 5”.

As per Bernama report: Lim said the debt was repaid on Aug 8 but the Ministry of Finance had issued a letter dated Aug 5 to allow the Ministry of Education to carry out the preliminary work on the project. On Aug 14, the Ministry of Finance issued another letter to the Ministry of Education to inform that the payment from the Sarawak government had been received and asked for the appropriate measures to be taken to expedite the implementation of the first phase of the project. The Federal Government also made an exception in approving the application of the Sarawak government so that the project to repair the schools is monitored by the Sarawak Public Works Department (JKR) and priority is given to local contractors operating in Sarawak.

If this were true, why was it that Maszlee, Manyin, the Works Minister Baru Bian, Sarawak Public Works Department and the state government of Sarawak were unaware of all this development?

In fact, on Aug 26 Baru was reported as having said that he had no information about the RM350 million.

“I will check it out … the status of that … the RM350 million and will see how it can be pushed as soon as possible,” Baru said.

On the same day, all Maszlee could offer was about refurbishing abandoned teachers’ quarters. If he had known of any directive to use the RM350 million, he certainly would have talked about it.

But, the finance minister was the only person in the know although in Sarawak, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii tried hard to project himself as privy to the issue and the workings of the “new government”.

If Manyin, Maszlee, Baru, the state PWD and state government were all not in the know, who would believe the first-term Bandar Kuching MP was any exception?

Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali was right when she told Dr Yii it was all DAP’s politics.

“Who were the first to play politics on all matters? They (DAP) are the ones who politicised everything the state government wants to do.

“You can now get a taste of your own medicine. You started the politics you brought from Malaya,” she was quoted as saying.