Tuesday, October 15

Let there be light

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SMK Katibas, Song: Education is the movement from darkness to light.

RECENTLY, the controversial columnist Ridhuan Tee suggested that a basic requisite for qualifying as a candidate in either the state or parliamentary election should be a credit in SPM Bahasa Melayu.

Well, it seems we get to hear something outlandish and controvertible everytime he opens his mouth.

However, I do concede his suggestion can be modified to require a SPM Math credit for those sitting in the government financial department, treasury and tender board who are responsible to work out costs and award tenders so that they will not waste the public funds.

Now, let’s try some simple maths. A contract sum of RM21 million has been awarded to a contractor to maintain the generators of 14 schools in the small district of Song for two years.

This amounts to a whooping RM875,000 per month. The job is just to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity to these schools, using the generators and the fuel provided.

Now, let’s be generous and pay a CEO a MP salary and allowances of RM26,500 and seven supporting technical staff RM5,000 each per month to look after the 14 schools. The salaries and allowances will amount to RM61,500.

Diesel of RM13,000 is allocated according to the contract. But let’s assume the contractor has to bear the cost. The provision of another sum of RM100,000 should more than suffice to cover the other expenses.

Peruse the following equation for a moment: RM875,000 – (RM61,500 + RM100,000 + 182,000) = RM531,000. Rounding up, it is a profit of RM530K per month.

The annual profit from the contract is estimated at RM6.3 million.

When she came to know about the scenario, my good friend, who works long hours in an industry, literally requiring her to stand by 24/7, jumped up:

“Give me the contract. With it, I bet when I say let there be light, there will be light 24 hours a day and seven days a week.”

It is fair say this friend of mine and other like-minded people deserve, at least, a shot at providing “uninterrupted supply of electricity” to the affected schools. I think they can do a better job.

It has been a dramatic week – a 60-year-old who fathered the child of an under-aged girl walks free, more than 300 bank accounts have been frozen en-mass for investigation over alleged illegal logging and tax evasion, and an assistant minister being probed for graft.

All these issues are of great concern to Sarawakians but the one tugging the hardest at my heartstrings is the RM21 million contract to provide “light” to rural schools.

The Borneo Post shed light on this particular case earlier in the week:

“The student population of SMK Katibas, 45-minute drive on a bumpy road or an hour boat ride from the small riverine town of Song, has shrunk from 350 to about 20 in more than a week because all four generators that provided power to the school had broken down.

“The picturesque boarding school catering for the youths of more than 100 longhouses along Katibas River and its tributaries is plunged into total darkness at sundown and it is dim, hot and stuffy during the day as the lights and fans cannot work.

“However, darkness and heat are the lesser of the problems paralysing the school because without proper pumps drawing water from the Katibas River to the school, the whole school cannot function. As a result, the toilets cannot flush and there is no water for bathing and cooking.”

Apparently, the company contracted to ensure uninterrupted power supply to the school at a considerable sum of RM10.5 million a year, has come out short.

Within days after the story broke, Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah shed light on the situation, saying the Education Department had actually instructed the contractor to take action but the contractor still failed to provide power to the school.

The Minister, who is holding brief for education matters in the state, added that the Education Department and the school principal had identified other companies in Song or Sibu to rent generators as a temporary measure to tide over the problem.

However, what people like to also know is what has happened to the contractor who failed to live up to his end of the bargain?

I remember hearing a sermon in which the preacher said: “Light” which is “truth” can be viewed from three levels – the bottom layer is the physical, the middle layer, the soulish, and the top layer, the spiritual.

“The physical light illuminates a place so that we can carry out our routine with clarity and see each other.”

The contractor has failed to deliver the physical light to the school (SMK Katibas), thus causing much hardship to the students and teachers.

In the “soulish” layer, we talk about emotional and mental reactions. We speak of “light” as truth and knowledge.

Can someone shed a little light on how a situation such as this has come about – a contractor given multi million-dollar contract, yet not delivering?

Can the authorities shed light on how tax-payers’ money is being spent in this instance.

Yes, I mean, please tell us the truth. Moral knowledge, transparency, accountability are light. We have the right to be enlightened. The top layer which is spiritual tells us the nature and character of God – “I am the light of the world. If any man follows me, he shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”

Our Chief Minister has time and again said he wants to instill the fear of God in people who are dishonest.

And coming back to Ridhuan Tee’s call for credit in BM, may be the directors of contract companies, bidding for projects, should have a credit in SPM Moral Values (P. Moral is what they use, I guess). Then we shall have contractors who will not rip our country off substantial sums when the provision is primarily for the education of our rural youths and the future of Malaysia – worse when their delivery of services is poor.

A knowledge of moral values will prod them to provide “light” to “lightless” rural schools without fail. May the truth or light be revealed at all levels so that the students and teachers of SMK Katibas or any rural schools in Sarawak, for that matter, no longer have to walk in darkness and suffer.

And more importantly, the students will not be denied their education, and the teachers, their livelihood and their vision and mission in education.

Let light shine out of darkness and in our hearts to give light to people around us.