KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — The Federal Territories Land and Mines Office’s remarks that its decision not to renew the land lease for 122-year-old SMK Convent Bukit Nanas as it would be converted to a fully-aided government school “does not hold water”, the all-girls’ school’s alumnae president Marina Yong has reportedly said.
Yong reportedly also said that SMK Convent Bukit Nanas’s alumnae thought it was odd that the Land Office director was the one who announced the government’s intentions to convert the partially-aided school into a fully-aided government one, instead of the Education Ministry (MoE).
“So far, however, no announcement has been made by the ministry, only a comment from the land office director,” Yong was quoted as telling news portal The Malaysian Insight, adding that this announcement does not hold water as there has been “no due process” over this matter.
“I think we need to hear from the relevant parties, like the MoE, which interestingly enough has been silent on this. It hasn’t corroborated what the land and mines department said,” she was also quoted as saying.
Yong was weighing in on the Federal Territories Land and Mines Office director Datuk Muhammad Yasir Yahya’s remarks in a news report by The Star on Tuesday, where the latter had assured SMK Convent Bukit Nanas would not be demolished when its land lease expires this September.
Yasir was reported as saying that the only reason why the land office had decided not to renew the land lease was to enable the school to be made a fully-aided government school and enjoy the related benefits, once the land returns to being under the government.
Yasir had said the school board — namely the Lady Superior of the Society of Saint Muar) — could still appeal to the Federal Land Commissioner who owns the land lease, if the school board wants to continue operating the school.
Yasir’s remarks come amid an ongoing court case over the Federal Territories Land and Mines Office’s refusal to extend the land lease for the school.
The school had on October 4, 2017 wrote to the Federal Territories Land Office to ask for an extension of the land lease that was due to expire on September 6, 2021, but only received a response in January 2021 with a letter dated December 18, 2020 to notify the non-renewal of the lease but with no reason stated for the decision.
The school filed a court challenge on April 7 to seek the quashing of the decision to not renew the land lease. On April 19 (Monday), the school obtained leave from the court to proceed with the hearing of this judicial review, with the Attorney General’s Chambers not objecting to leave being granted.
In the same The Malaysian Insight report, Yong said it was puzzling to hear the Federal Territories land office’s statement of the alleged plans to convert SMK Convent Bukit Nanas into a fully-aided government school as justification for the non-renewal of the land lease, noting that the school board was not informed of such a reason and were not approached on this matter of becoming a fully-funded government school.
During the four-year period from 2017 when the school board had applied for the land lease’s renewal up until the 2020 reply, Yong said there was “no mention at all of it becoming a fully funded government school”.
“Then in 2020 when they got the response that the lease was not going to be renewed, there was also no indication that the government was going to convert it to a fully funded government school. That’s why everyone is so puzzled. To hear this reason is very odd,” she was quoted saying.
Yong also said the school has been running fine for 122 years and that the board of governors and alumni association could help out if the school has any needs.
“If the school was in such dire need of funds, we would have known about it. But there is no such case,” she said, adding that the alumni would also be willing to help out with fundraising for any of the school’s needs.
Yong was also reported as saying that the alumni would continue to support the school if it decides it does not want to be a government-funded school — if its autonomy is compromised — and if the school decides to contest the land lease issue.
Zulaida Zulkifli, a lawyer who had previously studied at SMK Convent Bukit Nanas, was also quoted as saying in the same report: “It’s odd because it should have been the Ministry of Education that made that announcement. To my understanding, the land office only deals with land issues.”
On May 4, the High Court will hear the school’s application for a stay order to ensure status quo until the school’s lawsuit has been heard and decided on by the courts.