It all started when Deputy Higher Education Minister, Datuk Ong Tee Kiat made reference in a speech at a school dinner to possible corruption in the Ministry of Education in the utilisation of the special RM10 million fund for the purposes of upgrading vernacular schools. Allegedly, SJKC Kung Yu in Johor received only RM3,000 worth of repairs, when the allocated and expended budget was RM30,000.
Unfortunately for Datuk Ong, the spirit of Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties dictates that the ugly truths must never be revealed public, irrespective of whether the issue raised is in public interest. And for the next couple of days, Datuk Ong can only be described as having been given a metaphorical public whipping with his pants down, hands tied and mouth gagged.
His peer, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein, the Minister of Education and UMNO Youth Chief chastised him for "trying to be a racial hero" and effectively told him to mind his own (ministry's) business. His superior, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, the Minister of Higher Education, immediately apologised on his behalf prior to even obtaining clarification from him. That was immediately followed by an order to cease and desist. The cabinet under the leadership of former Minister of Education, and current Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak issued a public reprimand for Datuk Ong's actions. And all throughout, Datuk Ong's party leadership in the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) had their tails between their legs and deserted him, leaving him high and dry.
Ah, and that's when the story gets interesting. Despite the honourable BN spirit of non-interference between ministries, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting and Datuk Seri Samy Vellu paid a visit to the Muar schools - Kung Yu and Ai Hwa. The twist is, they both declared that there was indeed some major hanky panky in the utilisation of the specially alloted funds. For SJKC Ai Hwa, RM20,000 was claimed for RM5,000 worth of work. This news was carried on the front page of major vernacular newspapers.
So despite the fact that Datuk Ong Tee Kiat was right, and despite the reflex denial from the Minister and the Ministry of Education, there was no "apology" to him, and of course, no retraction of the reprimand by the cabinet. More curiously, I was half-expecting another public reprimand for the Minister of Housing and Local Government, as well as the Minister of Works for interfering with the affairs of the honourable Ministry of Education.
Now, the snowball threatens to turn itself into a major avalanche. The vernacular newspapers were competing among themselves to see who can better brush the teeth and scrub the tongue of the Minister of Education who claimed that "99 percent of the RM10 million fund was allocated to schools without a hitch but Ong’s statement created the impression that government officers had misappropriated the whole lot".
The Chinese press unearthed more fishy business in a few other Chinese schools around the country. The alleged a misappropriation of RM40,000 for work done worth only RM5,000 for SRJK Sin Bin in Klang. Even the Prime Minister's home constituency isn't off the hook, when the new hero for the Chinese community, Datuk Samy Vellu hitting the roof that the RM100,000 ceiling repair works at SRJK Man Hua in Kepala Batas was far from satisfactory.
It appears that, in order to save the faces of the leaders MCA for being deafeningly silent, of Datuk Hishammuddin who chose to indulge himself with a "personal attack" on Datuk Ong Tee Kiat and last, but not least, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak who meted out the public reprimand, the Internal Security Ministry has instructed the media to downplay reports of the alleged misappropriation of funds earmarked for the repair and maintenance of Chinese primary schools nationwide.
In the Sept 21 letter, the ministry’s Publication Control Unit secretary Che Din Yusoh claimed that the reporting of the controversy would lead to “confusion” among readers and erode public confidence in the government’s ability to resolve the matter.The losers? The teachers, students and parents of the Chinese schools who did not get their school infrastructure weaknesses rectified. And the winners? The corrupt officials who are more likely than not, getting scott free with embezzled funds, particularly in the many schools which have yet to be "inspected".
The ministry also said it considered the spat between Ong and Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein over the issue has ended after Ong’s immediate superior, Mustapa Muhamed, apologised on Ong’s behalf last week.
Several media sources have told malaysiakini that journalists are only allowed to report on the visit of ministers to the affected schools but they are barred from investigating the matter further.
Pak Lah, you won the last elections with a landslide with promises of being a Prime Minister for all Malaysians and a pledge to be a morally upright leader and to fight the demons of corruption which has permeated into all levels of our civil service. I believe that there is no better time for you to demonstrate your political will than now, to show us that you are indeed a man of deeds.