This news was also reported in the New Straits Times last week here and here. Somebody seems to have finally decided that enough is enough and the practice has been going on in the vernacular schools for far too long.
"I cannot understand why no one has attempted to address the problem, which has badly tarnished the image of the vernacular school and affected the morale of both students and parents in the past 20 years. I am offering this reward to encourage all, including school committees, parent-teacher associations, parents, teachers and textbook suppliers to come forward and furnish us with evidence of corruption. We are doing justice to all Chinese schools," claimed Ong in the advertisement.And the corrupt practices isn't just about headmasters stealing stamps or stationery supplies. By general estimates, it appears that a headmaster of a school with 1,000 students will take home some RM150,000 per annum with rebates given by the suppliers of textbooks, stationery supplies, tuition and computer classes, addtional reading materials and workbooks as well as other recreational activities.
Based on a conservative estimate by Petaling Chinese Primary Schools Parents’ Association vice-chairman Teh Hon Seng, some headmasters takes a 30 per cent cut of the annual expenditure of approximately RM780 per student per annum. He said this had led to some suppliers "locking" the supply of books, stationery and computers to schools, making it difficult for parents to buy them elsewhere. And there are over 1,000 Chinese schools with a total of some 650,000 pupils. Mr Ong added that "these headmasters do not allow parents to buy textbooks and exercise books from outside except through them and have tied up with suppliers to rake in huge profits."
This piece of news isn't new or surprising. Most of us have known about it for the longest time. We probably just didn't know the scale of corruption which is happening in our vernacular schools.
I can give my own little piece of experience in my dealings with a particular Chinese school way back in 1998/99. At that point in time, I have not started my own business for very long. And my other half who have just graduated with her degree in jurisprudence (law) was helping me out while completing her Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) papers on a part-time basis. In an attempt to expand and scale my business (which was still pretty much in its infancy), we were looking to bring internet and computer classes to school.
The model was very simple and it wasn't new even then. We would supply the schools with 2 fully-furnished labs of the latest computers (I think it was Pentium III then), networked to the internet and a supply of the latest multimedia educational software as well as of course, trained teachers. In exchange, we will charge the students RM10 each for a period of 10 months a year. Given that the idea wasn't unique and we weren't the first players at the scene, our competitive advantage was pretty much just the fact that we were providing significantly better products, service and quality than the previous vendors for the exact same price. It was a struggle selling the idea to Chinese schools in Johor Bahru, Batu Pahat, Kluang, Paloi and more. But we were finally (we thought so anyway) getting a breakthrough with my wife's alma mater, Ai Chun Chinese Girls School in Batu Pahat which had yet to set up a computer lab. The negotiations was long and protracted, but we have finally managed to secure the consent of the principal as well as the Parents-Teachers Association.
However, the timing of things just so absolutely sucked. The principal was due for retirement and a new principal was put into place. This new principal was transferred from another school in Kluang who was already using the services of the main competitor. Our proposal was thrown out without being given any further consideration. We argued that our model would provide the latest version of the computers which included CD-ROMs and internet enabled capabilities while the competitors didn't. We added that our imported teaching software was not just about teaching computers but also assisting with the curriculum subjects such as English, Science and Mathematics while the competitors were still offering DOS-based programmes. We were ready to invest in an air-conditioned and renovated computer labs to make learning absolutely conducive for the students, and we were offering it for the exact same price as the competitor.
But it all didn't matter. The straight in your face reply which we got from the headmaster was that the students didn't need the latest computers. It wasn't necessary to have all the "expensive" software. Air-conditioning is a luxury, and Internet was still in its infancy. And that was that. A few months later, our competitor set up their lab in the school and the students were charged the same exact price for markedly inferior products and services.
Was there money that exchanged hands? You tell me.
Chairman of the National Union of Heads of Schools, Mr Kang Siew Koon, said they would take action against those who claimed there were headmasters who could be pocketing as much as RM150 million in commissions from suppliers.
"We deny the whole thing, we will hold them responsible for making such a statement," he said. As for Ong Koh Hou, a 57-year-old businessmen who offered the RM500,000, Kang said the union would have to take action against him, but declined to say what they would do.Mr Teh Hon Seng responded by asking headmasters to declare their assets. Also, a quick pointer for Mr Kang, just because there are plenty of other corrupt individuals in other agencies does not make corrupted headmasters acceptable and immune from persecution. His violent sounding outburst only serves to demonstrate guilt.
"We find it peculiar that there are so many different types of corruption in the country, but he chooses to pick on headmasters, and those only of Chinese schools. Why is he doing this, when the RM500,000 could be used for more beneficial purposes?" he asked.
What Mr Ong is doing now with his RM500,000 reward is highly commendable. But I'm not sure if it'll be able to stamp out the practice of corruption. He even noted that "most Chinese dailies, which have supplied newspapers to Chinese schools under their readership programme, did not dare highlight the matter due to mutual business interest."
I dare say that the practice of kickbacks is so systemic in the vernacular Chinese schools that it'll take with not only cash, but someone with the necessary influence and dogged determination to wipe it out. But maybe, just maybe, if a couple of headmasters are thrown into jail for a couple of months, it might just deter others from continuing with such practices.