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Saturday, November 19, 2011

School aid suggestive of vote-buying

Stephanie Sta Maria
November 17, 2011

Opposition MPs query ministry directive for BN reps to be present during the distribution of funds to schools.

PETALING JAYA: A recent Education Ministry directive for BN parliamentarians and assemblymen to be present at the distribution of schooling assistance to parents has raised eyebrows in the opposition camp.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had announced in the 2012 Budget that all primary and secondary students nationwide would receive RM100 by the end of this month.

The funds would be deposited into the Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) accounts of the schools and subsequently handed out to the students or their parents.

Last Sunday however, the ministry issued a circular requesting all BN representatives to be present during the distributions to act as a “touchpoint” between the government and the people.

PKR’s Subang MP, Sivarasa Rasiah, said that the one-off payment in itself is suggestive of vote-buying and that the presence of politicians appeared as an attempt to seal that connection between the “gift” and the intended vote.

“If this allocation was made a permanent benefit and the right of poorer familes, then these questions wouldn’t arise,” he said. “And this is the difference between the BN and Pakatan budget. Our aid programmes are continuous.”

“My other problem with this aid is that it is part of a budget that hasn’t yet been approved in its entirety which makes the distribution of funds inappropriate at this point.”

Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, meanwhile, observed a contradiction between this new directive and an earlier one in in January barring all politicians from entering school compounds.

Education should be above politics’

She also noted that BN parties appear to be dominating government schools in the country and this isn’t welcome by all Malaysians.

“Look, while I appreciate the government fulfilling its promises to the people, you also have to look at the procedures involved,” she said. “It goes beyond the issue of vote buying and into clouding the governance of education.”

“It isn’t about whether this will affect my rice bowl as a politician but about the fact that a responsible government should prioritise education above politics.”

Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong added that the directive appeared to be part of a last- minute campaign before an election spurred by the belief that the gesture would garner votes.

“There is no need for their presence,” he said. “It won’t make a difference because it’s not about improving the system. What is needed is a genuine open policy on the country’s future.

“Instead of just being a touchpoint, there should be open engagement with parents. In this situation, it is not enough to literally stand there and be counted.”

According to Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng, a Taiping school board chairman had recently given the government a tongue lashing over politicians entering school grounds.

“He said that politicians don’t belong on a holistic campus and I fully support his stand,” he said. “Let the aid be distributed by the principals without any political presence or involvement.”

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