Suhakam: Authorities should renew 122-year-old Convent Bukit Nanas’ land lease, no school should be told how to run operations

A general view of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Bukit Nanas in Kuala Lumpur April 21, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A general view of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Convent Bukit Nanas in Kuala Lumpur April 21, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — The authorities should renew the lease for the land where SMK Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) is located, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said today.

Suhakam said it shared the concerns by various organisations and individuals over the land office’s decision to not renew the 122-year-old school’s land lease and the possible need for it to be relocated from its location in the capital city.

“Suhakam is of the view that the operations of the school should remain as status quo and the land lease should be renewed.

“As one of the country’s high-achieving schools, CBN should be allowed to continue with its educational work as they have done for more than a century,” Suhakam said in a brief statement today.

Suhakam said the right of education is not only for the students, but also related to the right to livelihood and the method of training for education providers.

“As long as, it is in compliance with educational and other legal requirements, no institution should be dictated on how it may conduct its operations,” Suhakam said.

“Suhakam urges the authorities, including the National Heritage Department, to preserve CBN and to continue protecting its character and heritage as a historical learning institution that is iconic and have played formative roles in educating Malaysians for 122 years,” the human rights watchdog concluded.

There is just a few months left before the land lease for the school expires.

The school had on October 4, 2017 written to the Federal Territories Land and Mines 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, 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.

On April 20, the Federal Territories Land and Mines Office director Datuk Muhammad Yasir Yahya’s was reported by local daily The Star as assuring that 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.

Marina Yong, the president of the school’s alumnae, was today reported by news portal The Malaysian Insight as saying that it was puzzling and 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 which had been silent on this matter.

Yong said the school board was never informed of such a reason prior to the Land Office director’s remarks on why the land lease was not renewed, adding that the school has been running fine for 122 years and that the board of governors and alumni association could help out — including with fundraising — if the school has any needs.

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.

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