BEFORE Budget 2020 was unveiled by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng on Oct 11, a Chinese guild leader bet that Lim would reinstate the government’s matching grant of RM30mil for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC) after angry protests from the Chinese community last year over the cut.
“He is merely a politician. Last year, he used the Budget to punish the MCA (in Opposition). This year, he is likely to reinstate the grant to show that the government has heeded the people’s call. Then everybody will praise this DAP leader and forget his past mistake, ” said the guild leader.
His wishful thinking proved wrong.
In Lim’s Budget, not only was the matching grant for TAR UC not reinstated, but the development fund for this institution of higher learning was also slashed to a mere RM1mil from RM5.5mil.
For the second year running, TAR UC – initially set up to enrol Chinese students denied entry into public universities under the racial quota system – has been made a “political pawn”.
It is supposed to be a DAP versus MCA political match, but the ones to be hit the hardest will be TAR UC and the Chinese community.
Why the Chinese community?
When the MCA started TAR (before it was upgraded to a university college), there was tremendous support from the Chinese community in the form of donations of land and cash estimated
at over RM1bil. Hence, it can be argued that TAR UC is an education institution “owned jointly” by the MCA and the Chinese community.
And due to the matching grant and development funds allocated by the government previously, TAR UC has been able to charge affordable tuition fees since the 1970s.
If we take a casual stroll through TAR UC’s main campus in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, we can sense that most of the students come from modest backgrounds.
Among the 200,000 alumni from this institution are current DAP leaders such as ministers Teresa Kok and Anthony Loke.
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong has described the latest Budget stroke by Lim as “unsympathetic to the Chinese community”.
There is a possibility that the removal of all government grants may cause TAR UC to raise tuition fees, and this may hurt the 28,000 students currently studying in its six campuses.
Lim has insisted that TAR UC cut off ties with the MCA and demanded that the political party cede control of the institution.
The lofty principle of “education must be divorced from politics” has been repeatedly invoked in his speeches while defending his action.
However, there is little resonance of this from the Chinese community.
The general feeling is that he has again abused his powers and position to alter the allocations for TAR UC without giving due consideration to the historical circumstances under which TAR UC was established.
The birth of TAR UC was a political compromise reached between MCA and UMNO when the New Economic Policy (1971-1990) was implemented to help uplift the Malays economically.
A racial quota system, meant to replace the old merit-based selection process, was put in place in the student enrolment of these universities.
In sum, TAR was born out of historical necessity. It was a social contract struck between the Malay and Chinese politicians to soothe the Chinese masses.
Given that it was approved in Parliament and received grants from the Finance Ministry,
TAR UC was effectively treated as a semi-government school, managed by the MCA.
Hence, by removing TAR UC’s grants, Lim has not only hurt the MCA politically but also upset the age-old social contract that has maintained racial and social stability.
Last year, the blast of criticisms by Chinese media, associations and commentators against Lim for the removal of the RM30mil matching grant lasted weeks in the media.
Most people, regardless of their political and racial background, do not see TAR UC in the political light as it has been managed professionally.
Moreover, the MCA has not turned the college into a party school or used it as a platform to further its political agenda.
Ironically, it has churned out many anti-MCA politicians who
are now leaders in the Pakatan Harapan government.
Hence, many people question why the Pakatan government, voted in by about 95% of Chinese last year, is obsessed with targeting TAR UC just because it is linked to the MCA.
It is worth noting that the reaction to the TAR UC grant cut this time is more subdued. But this cannot be taken to mean that the Chinese people are not angry.
Community leaders, who fear retaliation in other forms, choose to murmur among themselves – rightly or wrongly.
“Many people are scared of
Lim. The way he reacts to criticism causes fear.
“Also, since many of us have to deal with his ministry due to our business projects, it is safer to keep quiet, ” explains one leader, a businessman.
“Who knows, I may be the next target for the Inland Revenue Department if I open my big mouth, ” another business leader concurs.
However, some media commentators are fearless in making their views known.
Liew Thye Ann wrote in Nanyang Siang Pau that it was “unfair” to make TAR UC suffer again this year.
He commented that the grant cut “was met with revulsion from people not limited to MCA members and its supporters”.
“We were excited to see the appointment of a Chinese as Finance Minister last year after
44 years of waiting.
“We thought he would help to distribute the nation’s wealth more fairly.
“But everybody can see what he is doing now. The verdict will be seen in the next election, ” said Liew in his bold lengthy comment on Tuesday.
Compared to the total allocations of RM6.6bil given to bumiputra institutions in education, the total grant for TAR UC is “only one single hair on the body of nine cows” and hence should not be removed, he argued.
Using the Budget to attain personal political goal appears to be unacceptable to many.
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong raised a pertinent point in Parliament when he questioned whether the Budget was drafted in accordance with Lim’s personal desire.
While participating in the Budget debate on Monday, the Ayer Hitam MP asked: “How is it possible for Lim to have this much power to decide whether this government-recognised institution could receive funding?
“Cutting TAR UC’s development allocation from RM5.5mil to RM1mil not only insults the institution, but also showcases the dirty politics of Pakatan Harapan, ” Wee added in the Dewan Rakyat.
If Lim had thought his Budget action regarding TAR UC could show that he was “more Malaysian than Chinese” and hence win Malay support, the Congress for Malay Dignity on Oct 6 would have blown up this wild illusion.
One of the resolutions adopted at the Congress, attended by
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was urging Putrajaya to ensure that all top government positions and senior Cabinet posts were held by Malays only.
These include positions such as Chief Justice, Attorney-General, Chief Secretary, Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Defence Forces, Chief Ministers and Finance Minister.
The Congress also cast doubt on Lim’s morally high theory of “divorcing education from politics”, which resonated with some academics last year.
“Last year, many would applaud Lim’s stolid principle of non-interference of political parties in universities. Now, I am afraid the joke is on Pakatan and Lim himself, ” Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi wrote in his column on an online portal.
“After the Congress of Malay Dignity organised by four public universities (Universiti Malaya, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Universiti Perguruan Sultan Idris and Universiti Putra Malaysia) that supported racism and bigotry, the rakyat would be scratching their heads asking: what the devil is Lim talking about?
“Where is the lofty principle of ‘non-interference’ by political entities?” the academic argued.
“After the Kongres Maruah Melayu, no Malaysians who love this country as a Malaysian would even consider giving away TAR UC to the Pakatan government.”