Assorted ills awaiting remedy

A school in 21st century Malaysia.

WHILE waiting for my turn to be called in by the doctor at a local clinic last week, I had a good chat with an uncle who had a swollen ankle.

There were two other people there, both engrossed in WhatsApp-ing their friends. Smiling at their clever gadgets, were they really sick, or just having symptoms of serious addiction, I wondered.

The ‘uncle’ next to me used to work in the Information Services in Simanggang in the 1960s, now retired, living in Kuching and working as a driver-cum-minder for his school-going grandchildren.

Apparently, still alert and fully updated in terms of world affairs, he asked me what my problem was – for seeing the doctor.

“Something serious like Electionitis?”

“No, no, it’s my left leg having pins and needles,” I revealed.

“Aah, kemaya aritu semua sakit – mensia sakit, rumah spital Simanggang pen sakit, rumah sekula semua sakit …” (Nowadays, everything is sick – human beings are sick, hospitals are sick, school buildings are sick.)

The hospital concerned, the new ‘Simanggang’ hospital, which is yet to be built. He had read a newspaper article calling it a ‘sick’ hospital. As a Sri Aman man, he was feeling ‘sick’ about the delay in the construction of that hospital.

“Ati pen sakit,” I chipped in, referring to the omission of Mission schools in Sarawak from the national Budget 2018 in terms of money for repairs of those schools.

He shook his head. Suddenly, the call came through the intercom! His turn to see the doctor; soon he disappeared inside a room marked ‘Consultation’.

Spital sakit

I was actually thinking about writing an article about the new hospital at Bandar Sri Aman once I had gotten full facts of the problem. Here was my chance to ask someone who would be able to throw some light on the subject.

A diagnosis has been made by Dr S Subramaniam, the Health Minister. According to him, the construction of six hospitals has been delayed by several factors, among them, the choice of contractors (inexperienced, without sufficient funds).

Is the ‘Simanggang’ hospital one of the six hospitals in trouble?

Doc, if you are right, why were such contractors selected in the first place, may one ask?

Sick school buildings

Actually, most of those school buildings, including those with boarding and related facilities requiring urgent repairs and extensions have been identified by the authorities in Sarawak for quite some time now.

Early last year, the Minister of Education gave the green light for repairs to be carried out in principle but on the ground that was another matter. What seemed to be the problem? Money? Normally, the money for this purpose comes from the federal government. In the national Budget 2018, that problem was solved in theory. A sum of RM1 billion has been earmarked for the purpose.

However, then another problem cropped up: disbursement of funds to the implementing agencies in the state on time before the buildings collapse beyond repairs. And there seems to be reluctance, allegedly, on the part of the federal government to entrust fully the works of repairs to schools to the state for this particular project.

Better late than never, this delivery problem will be partly answered by next month, when the federal Minister of Works will personally ensure that the repairs to the schools will begin in earnest. That’s something to look forward to anyway.

But that’s during schooling time. Normally, major repairs to schools are carried out during school holidays, but circumstances are such that abnormal measures must be taken quickly, with an eye on the elections.

Wither state education ministry?

One cannot help being curious about the role of the state ministry in this school repairs exercise?

Are we allowed to be curious and to quietly speculate that the state ministry may be a redundant creation or it’s just for this particular project that it is out of the main picture?

The omission of the Mission …

This week came the news, sad one, that the national budget allocation of RM1 billion does not include a specific financial provision for repairs to the Mission schools in the state.

Was the omission deliberate or inadvertent?

When the national budget was being debated in Parliament last year, did any MP from Sarawak ask a question if the RM1 billion was inclusive of money for repairs to Mission schools?

What about asking questions during the meeting of the ‘Committee of the whole House’? At this stage of the proceedings of Parliament (examination of expenditure in detail), any MP can still ask specific questions by way of clarifications or elaborations on any item or head of expenditure.

Did any Sarawak MP ask such a question? I have no access to the Hansard Report and therefore cannot say for sure if some MP did dare query this omission.

Failing a clarification from anybody who knows, there appears to be a serious omission in the current Budget, dubbed by many as ‘people-oriented’. Hopefully, in next year’s national budget, an adequate financial provision will be made for the purpose of repairs to Mission schools in Sarawak. Let’s cross our fingers.

Anybody aspiring to be a candidate in the forthcoming general election may like to make this issue as his or her election promise. I will vote for the candidate who advocates for an education policy which doesn’t discriminate against any racial or religious groups of people in this country.

The CM’s promise

Meanwhile, the promise made by the Chief Minister to get more funds for the Mission schools must be welcomed and taken seriously though it is given around election time. An apolitical promise, I think.

Bargaining to get one

Such is the urgency of the urgency for repairs to school buildings (including the related facilities) that the Chief Minister has to bargain with Kuala Lumpur for an alternative approach of spending the budgetary allocation: Sarawak to fund the repairs straightway after the necessary certification of works properly done and the expenditure on such repairs are to be reimbursed by the federal government, eventually.

It’s for the lifting of the morale of the teachers and the students – and politically correct that he had to resort to an unconventional method – bargaining for what is due to Sarawak as of right.

It is very practical of the Chief Minister to offer this reimbursement suggestion as a way out of a quagmire (a secret which the ordinary mortals in the street are generally not a privy to) and very courageous of the Deputy Chief Minister to reveal this omission or exclusion of the Mission schools in the national budget. Otherwise we would not know about how the Mission schools would have missed out.

Catch the bull by the horns

The federal Minister of Works has started catching the bulls by the horns. By next month, works on some school buildings would commence in earnest.

The minister will ensure that the repairs will be done properly.

My problem

Anybody curious enough about the pins and needles on my leg may be assured that these sharp things would not amount to a serious medical problem if treated early. Thank God. Thank Doc.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

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