SIBU: Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s statement that the setting up of more Chinese independent schools would create obstacles to foster national unity has not only angered the Chinese community but has also become a hot political issue here.
Quick to capitalise on the issue is Sarawak United People’s Party’s potential candidate for the Sibu parliamentary seat, Vincent Lau who expressed regret over the remark made by the former prime minister.
“His statement has implied that the permission granted by the government for the different races to set up their own schools has created a divide among the youths.
“He also said that a completely incommunicable society would be produced if the government decided to recognise Chinese education and the Unified Education Certificate (UEC) of Chinese private secondary schools.
“We disagree with such a way of thinking. We find his remarks harsh, unfair and shallow.
“We cannot look at things from a shallow point of view since we all are living in the same globalised world, which is created through the advancement of information technology,” he said.
Like the native customary rights (NCR) land issues to the Dayaks, Chinese education has always top the community’s list of concerns for either state or national general elections for both BN-linked SUPP and opposition DAP.
In last year’s state election, the issue was exploited by DAP, resulting in SUPP losing votes among the Chinese community.
SUPP lost 13 Chinese majority seats to the opposition out of 19 it contested.
‘Chinese schools in deficit’
For the coming election, SUPP is trying hard to win back the Chinese votes, especially in the six parliamentary seats, namely Sibu, which it lost to DAP in the 2010 by-election, Lanang, Miri, Sarikei, Stampin and Bandar Kuching.
SUPP also lost Bandar Kuching to DAP.
DAP has accused SUPP of being weak in fighting for the Chinese education.
Thus, Mahathir’s remark against Chinese education is seen as an opportunity by SUPP to show that it really has been fighting for Chinese education and the annual grants.
Meanwhile, Lau who is chairman of Wong Nai Siong Secondary school board of management, said that 14 private Chinese secondary schools in Sarawak have incurred deficits totaling RM5 million in terms of operational expenses annually.
“The huge sum is very burdensome and has to be shouldered by the Chinese community.
“We have tried to request for a systematic annual allocation for these schools from the government over and over again, but all were rejected on the ground that the schools had chosen not to change their educational system.
“Furthermore, these institutions have been serving as an alternative for our young citizens to pursue their secondary education apart from the usual government-aided schools,” Lau said at the 45th anniversary of the school.
No news of approved land
He said that the community faced so many problems and limitations in the running of the schools over the years, but their insistence on providing education in their mother tongue had never faded.
“This goes to show that the Chinese would strive their best to promote the language wherever they might be living in this world as they believe it represents the root of a race.
“Chinese private schools are able to survive simply because the Chinese community supports us especially financially,” he said.
Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud announced before the state election that the government had approved some 2,000 hectares of land in the interior for the Chinese schools to plant oil palm.
Until now the Chinese boards of management are yet to hear the latest news.