KUCHING: Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng admits delays in implementing repair of dilapidated schools in Sarawak because the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Ministry of Works (MOW) did not agree with the proposal by the Education Department to merge the schools.
In a statement issued from Putrajaya today, Lim said the delays involved 16 schools out of the 37 listed under the the first phase of dilapidated schools redevelopment utilising the first tranche of RM350 million received from the Sarawak government under the contra loan repayment deal.
He said these projects included school merger proposals by closing some schools to build a new centralised school at another location, which is not being approved for fear this would cause dropouts among the students.
“The tender implementation for work on the 16 schools has been delayed to enable the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Sarawak Public Works Department to review the the scope and cost of implementation of these projects. It is expected that these projects will be tendered by March 2020.
“This delay is also due to MOF and Ministry of Works not agreeing with the proposal to close and merge some primary schools.
“We fear the proposed merger proposal would the closure of school close to local community for the students to move to a new school located further from them. This situation may result in dropout due to the distance factor and high transportation costs needed to get the students to the new school.
“Therefore, the proposal to close schools is not being approved and (these schools) should continue to be used and upgraded, while the number of existing schools will not be reduced,” he said.
According to the statement, the proposal to close and merge several schools to build new and centralised school was made by the Sarawak Education Department last year.
It had been previously reported that the proposed centralised school would have better and more conducive learning environment in order for the students to achieve better academic results.
On a related matter, Lim gave his assurance that funds received from the contra loan repayment deal with Sarawak, which now totalled RM700 million, are being specifically provided for repairing dilapidated schools in Sarawak.
He disclosed SK Abang Amin, Meradong and SK Abun Matu, Belaga are the first two locations where repair is now being implemented under the first phase of dilapidated schools redevelopment utilising the first tranche of RM350 million.
He said the works on site had started at these two schools on Feb 13, while acceptance letter (Surat Setuju Terima – SST) have been issued on Feb 14 for works on four more schools namely SK Melugu in Sri Aman, SK Nanga Tada (Kanowit), SK Nanga Machan (Kanowit) and SK Grogo (Bau).
He informed that works on 15 other schools have been tendered out, and awaiting decision by the Malaysian Treasury Board, Sarawak on Feb 21.
He also clarified that although the money was paid by the Sarawak government, it is actually federal funds because money that was previously lent by the federal government to Sarawak.
“If it is considered a repayment of a loan to the Federal Government, it means the RM350 million fund belongs to the federal government,” he said, adding the Sarawak government is still owing RM1.67 billion to the federal government.
For the year 2020, Lim said the MOF has provided development allocation of RM400 million for the dilapidated schools redevelopment projects in Sarawak compared to RM100 million in 2019.
“The government has fixed for the the provision to be used to repair dilapidiated schools including rebuilding classroom that cannot be repaired. This provision cannot be used to close and merge several schools with the sole purpose of building a new school like what proposed the State Education Department last year.
“All necessary approvals from the Ministry of Finance have been completed completed and it now subjected to the relevant technical agency to implement and expedite the work of repairing poor schools in Sarawak,” he said.
On another matter, he confirmed MOF has approved has received of the second tranche of RM350 million from the Sarawak government on February 6, 2020.
“I have ordered the second tranche allocation of RM350 new million for the implementation of Phase II dilapidated school development to be channeled as soon as possible to the MOE,” he said.