Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tamil school aid: Whither the millions? | Free Malaysia Today

Tamil school aid: Whither the millions?

B Nantha Kumar | March 21, 2012--FMT
The government has promised millions to upgrade Tamil schools, but one pertinent question remains.
KUALA LUMPUR: The government has promised millions of ringgit to upgrade Tamil schools in the country but one question still remains.

Would the millions really be spent on the reconstruction of these schools or would it go to crony contractors; or be channeled back to the government?

The lack of transparency in releasing the funds had raised heckles from non-governmental organisations, who wanted a system to streamline funds to ensure it reached the “target” group fast.

Commenting on this, Malaysian Consumer Advisory Association (MCAA) president G Varatharajoo said apart from the Public Works Department (JKR), the Education Ministry and MIC were also to be blamed for the “improper” administration of the RM100 million set aside as special allocation for Tamil schools under the 2012 Budget announced by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is also finance minister, last year.

He said the Finance Ministry had yet to release the money to the affected Tamil schools because the Education Ministry was in the final stages of approving over 230 Tamil schools identified to receive the aid.

FMT learnt that all qualified Tamil schools were divided into three categories — relocation, additional building and upgrading of existing infrastructures.

According to documents furnished to FMT, about RM40 million had been allocated to 16 schools under the relocation plan, 20 schools stood to get RM38.3 million for additional buildings while another 173 schools would receive RM18 million for infrastructure upgrade.

Varatharajoo said although the Malaysian Indian community welcomed the government’s assistance with open arms, it was concerned over the delay in disbursing these funds and the estimated cost quoted by the JKR.

“The estimated cost set by the JKR is really absurd… for example JKR has fixed RM1.5 million for an additional building with six classrooms. This means each classroom costs around RM250,000 which is really too much,” he said.

“When we checked with a few private contractors, we found that a classroom will only cost between RM70,000 and RM75,000. So it is clear that the JKR quoted prices that have been ‘jacked-up’ three fold than the actual cost,” he added.

He said going by these estimates, in actual fact the government would only complete work amounting to RM33 million out of the RM100 million set aside under the 2012 Budget.

“This is because the relevant authorities especially JKR has quoted three-fold prices. While work will be done for RM35 million, the remainder of the allocation will either go back to the government or into the pockets of contractors or cronies given the contracts,” he added.

Set up board of governors

Negeri Sembilan Tamil School Board of Governors (LPS) coordinator R Sathiaseelan felt that the government should channel funds to a particular school’s board of governors instead of allowing JKR to deal directly with appointed contractors.
“LPS is the best way to channel the money. The board consists of representatives from the Education Ministry, the schools’ parent-teachers association, former students, the public and the headmaster or headmistress. They will know how to spend the money wisely,” he added.

He said efforts were underway to form a board of governors in all Tamil schools as they could act as the conduit between the government and the school.

“As the Negeri Sembilan coordinator, I visited all the Tamil schools in the state and received good response from parents and the public on this suggestion,” he added.

He also lashed out at MIC, touted to be the largest Indian based political party in the country, as it did not favour the setting-up of the board of governors in Tamil schools nationwide.

“With the LPS set-up, MIC feels it would lose its grip on Tamil schools as the government would be dealing directly with the LPS and not through MIC,” he added.

He said the Education Act stated that a school’s LPS would be the authority when it came to matters relating to the infrastructure of a school.

There was also a need Najib to clarify his claim recently that RM440million had been spent on Tamil schools from 2008 to 2012.

The prime minister must reveal details of how the money was spent and which school benefited from the huge allocation.

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