KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Two ministerial officers under the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration has rebuked a former aide of then education minister Maszlee Malik for fanning ethnic tensions, after his recent salvo against the DAP.
In a joint statement today, Thulsi Manogaran and Hafiz Noor Shams accused ZF Zamir of making false accusations with regards to financial decisions on the budget allocation for schools’ security services and building cleaning and safety services, as well as several other policy matters.
“Zamir should be careful in making various accusations without checking, especially when it can provoke racial sentiments,” the duo said.
Hafiz was a special officer to former finance minister Lim Guan Eng, while Thulsi was the private secretary to Maszlee’s deputy Teo Nie Ching.
Both Lim and Teo are MPs from DAP, the PH component seen as Chinese-dominant, and which ZF Zamir had accused of “being too hasty” in reforms to the alleged detriment of the Malay majority.
“ZF Zamir cited an example whereby the budget for the schools’ security services and building cleaning and safety services was reduced by 10 per cent to RM427.3 million. However, ZF Zamir deliberately did not mention the MOF’s (Ministry of Finance) intention to have all of the school security workers be appointed directly by the schools or the Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), and not via third parties.
“He also failed to explain that those who might be getting reduced payments are the companies supplying the services and third parties who before this, were enjoying lucrative profits,” the duo wrote.
ZF Zamir, whose commentary was published by the portal The Malaysian Insight yesterday, claimed that he and other officials at the Ministry of Education (MOE) were allegedly inundated with calls, messages and emails over the budget cut, but claimed that they were powerless to act as the funding was not approved by the MOF.
He said that Malay daily Utusan Malaysia had also highlighted the issue, after which it was Maszlee who was pictured as “the bad guy”, without knowing the real reason as to why up to 10,000 clerical workers were retrenched.
Thulsi and Hafiz however explained that all savings made from the cut was channelled back to the MOE for its own programmes to improve the quality of the national education system.
They said that this was evidently proven, after the overall allocation for the MOE increased by more than seven per cent from RM59.8 billion in 2018, to RM64.1 billion in 2020, adding that the ministry’s development budget rose almost 22 per cent from RM4 billion in 2018 to RM4.9 billion in 2020.
“The total nett increase in the budget for the MOE of over RM4 billion, was far greater than the gross reduction that left ZF Zamir dissatisfied,” they said.
The duo also rubbished ZF Zamir’s accusation that the financial rationalisation move by the MOF was haphazardly done, explaining that it was the wish of the then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and was also a joint decision by the Cabinet — which had included Maszlee himself.
The move was intended to reduce wastage, increase frugality in spending and to control additional debts and government liabilities, which was at a staggering RM1 trillion.
They lamented that while ZF Zamir questioned the allocation given to Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (KTAR) and Chinese-medium schools, he did not mention about the fund allocated by the PH government to government-aided Islamic schools as well as those from other categories, including full boarding schools totalling RM150 million.
On the claim that MOF closed the Malaysian Institute of Translation and Books (ITBM) and the Education Implementation and Performance Unit (PADU), Thulsi and Hafiz said the decision was taken by a rationalisation committee led by the former Chief Secretary to the Government, which involved all government agencies, to prevent an overlap in their roles, and to optimise government expenditure.
They also weighed in on his allegation that Chinese-medium schools can be opened on one’s whims without the need to refer to the Federal Constitution, labelling it as unsubstantiated, zooming in on SMJK Heng Ee 2.
The duo explained that under the Education Act 1996, only the education minister — which was Maszlee then — is authorised to sanction the opening of new schools.
They also refuted their former colleague’s claim that Teo had sent in letter to Lim bypassing Maszlee.
“This is not true. In fact, the former finance minister had never approved direct allocation to the former deputy education minister. What was approved was allocation for schools, agencies under the MOE, or the MOE itself,” they said.
The duo said that Teo had written a letter to Lim previously, seeking an assessment tax exemption of RM47 million for Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), but stressed that all of her correspondences were copied to Maszlee and the ministry’s chief secretary.
On January 2, Maszlee confirmed that he would be resigning as the education minister, saying the decision was on the advice of then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after meeting him earlier yesterday.
In the recent political tumult, Maszlee had wavered between supporting Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister, after their party Bersatu quit the PH alliance — inevitably leading to a coalition government with Umno and PAS with Muhyiddin as the figurehead.