BETTER late than never, some might say. After a few years of waiting in anticipation, partially-aided schools have finally received the Government nod to only pay a token quit rent of RM1 per lot a year under new guidelines introduced by the National Land Council last week.
Over 2,000 such schools, including 211 religious, 367 mission and 543 Tamil primary schools, and up to 930 Chinese primary schools, stand to benefit from the move.
The quit rent has been a contentious issue faced by these schools in the past, as the rate of payment was determined by individual state governments. As a result, the quit rent charged varied from state to state.
Needless to say many schools were saddled with payments amounting to thousands of ringgit.
Passed in October 1999, the ruling for the token quit rent recognised the role these non-profit institutions play in the community and sought to provide them some financial relief. Former Land and Cooperative Development deputy minister Dr Goh Cheng Teik spearheaded the amendment proposal in early 1999, which was then continued by current deputy minister Dr Tan Kee Kwong.
Unfortunately, due to unforeseen reasons, it took the ministry up to three years to draft the guidelines that would standardise its implementation in the various states.
Consequently, the schools have been asked to pay the old rates in the last few years, most of which are exorbitant.
Yet, for those involved, this late development is good enough as many of the schools had decided not to pay the quit rent, playing wait and see instead.
“We wanted to pay the new quit rent, but the state departments were unable to implement it without the guidelines. Now, it’s water under the bridge. We are just happy that the Government has taken steps to implement the ruling as it will help our schools a lot,” says Malayan Christian Schools Council (MCSC) honorary secretary Yin Kam Yoke.
The nominal charge, she adds, will ease the financial burden of the schools nationwide. (Partially-aided schools only receive a reasonable amount of funding from the Government.)
Most welcomed is the write-off for arrears in quit rent from 1999 for these schools, which totals over RM150,000 for some. One such school, SK Marian Convent in Ipoh, for example, owes a total of RM184,600 in arrears. Under the new guidelines, schools need only pay RM1 per lot per year in arrears.
However, sources reveal that a few mission schools had paid up their quit rents since 1999, despite advice from the MCSC to postpone payment until the issue is resolved.
Some paid up to RM10,000 due to fear of having their land confiscated. This fear is not without basis, however. According to news reports, in 1994, two mission schools in Selangor had their land confiscated for failing to pay quit rent. Although the matter was later resolved by the state government, the schools concerned did not get all their land back.
Yin says she is not hopeful that the schools will get a reimbursement. “Land is a state matter, so it will be complicated. We told the schools not to pay and wait for the Government’s implementation but they did not want to listen,” she adds. The ministry could not be reached for comment.
For Tamil primary schools, the token quit rent means more money left for facilities and materials that will improve their standard of education.
Lauding the move, National Tamil School Teachers Association president Shahul Hamid Mydin Shah says: “Before, most schools had to raise a lot of funds for the quit rent, when the money is needed to purchase more teaching materials. The concession will lighten their money woes.”
Nevertheless, he hopes the Government will consider acquiring the leases of Tamil school land from private estates and make the schools fully-aided. At present, 360 out of the 543 Tamil schools nationwide are owned by private estates.
“If Tamil schools receive full funding from the Government, they can improve their infrastructure and facilities. They will also get a chance to equip themselves with IT facilities,” said Shahul Hamid. As the schools are on now on private land, it is difficult for the Government to construct buildings or computer labs for them.
Chinese schools, both partially–aided and independent, also commend the implementation of the new quit rent rate for its long-sightedness.
“It’s a relief, now we don’t have to worry about the money for it,” says Malayan Chinese School Teachers Association secretary-general Chan Seng Choy.
According to the guidelines, Chinese independent schools, which have also been asking for a tax reduction for many years, can apply for the token quit rent. Applications would be considered on a case-by-case basis. There are about 60 Chinese independent schools in the country.
Confucian Private School principal Goh Kean Seng welcomes the move, which he says will help them maintain their quality of education.
“We are not profit-making, and if our application is accepted, it will be a relief because we can then develop our infrastructure further to provide the best for students,” he adds.
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