Sunday, March 05, 2006

Corrupted Headmasters

A certain Mr Ong Koh Hou has advertised in the Oriental Daily a reward of RM500,000 for anybody who can come up with concrete evidence of corrupt practice by any Chinese school headmaster nationwide.

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.

"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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

This issue certainly isnt something new. Funny that it is brought up now... must be some deal gone bad.

Well, dear Tony, I would like to ask, your competitor... does it by any chance go by the name of Dynabook? This because Dynabook supplied the computer lab systems to my former primary school, and they charged RM10 a month. But Dynabook was quite good in a sense that they taught us almost al the Microsoft Office programmes and VB. But that was for the compulsory afternoon class where we followed the Singapore sylabbus, so I dont know whether its Singaporean or Malaysian.

Anyway, i think Dynabook or someone else then supplied the computer labs for our morning class for the Jing1 Ying1 (gifted? no?). Basically it was stupid programmes teaching us maths and chinese.

And the low down - RM 10 a month, and 20% goes to the headmaster. It is a known fact. However, in recent years, when the new but now retired principal was transfered from a rival school (Lai Meng)to manage ours, this Mr. Ng not only screwed up my primary school. From no.1 in KL(1999) for UPSR in my year to not even in the top 10 (2005). Thats not the point. He RAISED the 20% to 30%.

And there were other cases of corruption too. He started charging teachers for using classroom facilities for tuition, claiming it is for the electricity bills. Yea, my school had air conds for all the classes way back since 95. So, he started chargin the teachers 10% of their tuition fees since 2000. This $ is supposedly stored and managed by a certain disciplinary teacher.

So, when the headmaster was about to retire in 2005, there was an idea to buy him a farewell gift. The teachers naturally objected, because Mr.Ng was unpopular with them. So they requested to use the funds in that tuition cut. Suprise suprise - there was no $ left. :D. Hence, Mr.Ng got no farewell gift, and the disciplinary teacher immediately requested long term sickness leave, and has ran away ever since.

So, by estimations, 10% cut over the years translate to
10% x RM 100 / month x 5 days x 5 students (max allotment) x 44 weeks
= RM 11000 per teacher /year. And mind you there were about 60 teachers giving tuition. And this went on for 5 years.
= RM3300000 .

So 3.3 million / 2 people = RM1.65 million. More than enough for retirement.

Not to mention the kickbacks the principal receives from all kinds of books we were made to buy, and all the newspapers ( I remember we had like 3 newspapers - 3M, Xing Xing, and one more which name i forgot.)

Oh, the $$$ over the years.

By the way, if you're wondering which school this is, its the chinese school located at Jalan Raja Laut, behind the Quality Hotel (formerly Holiday Inn), just behind the Sultan Ismail LRT station. Its widely known as CKS.

Anonymous said...

The corrupted headmaster should be lynched in public. Their faces published in newspapers and blackmailed for the rest of their lives.

Anonymous said...

So, is it then correct to say that only the vernacular schools are corrupt?
Or, that so far, the reward money is only for proving the vernacular schools are corrupt?
Looking forward to the reward announcement for proof of corruption at national and vision schools. Can't wait :)

Anonymous said...

No, SK schools are involved too.
I remembered paying RM11.90 for a track suit (for my son when he was in Year 4 )to the school in the 90s. apparently the HM pocketed the money. Despite many parents kicking up a big fuss, no action was taken against the HM, he was merely transferred to another school ( seemingly got some connection ....)
"Accidentally" paid another RM 15 for a school chair for my son when he was in Year 6.
( accidentally because being too busy to go to school to settle the fees, I requested another parent to pay on my behalf and later only discovered the RM 15 for the chair in the receipt.