Feature: No end in sight to TAR UC controversy


  • Focus
  • Sunday, 15 Dec 2019

Unshaken priced asset: TAR UC has produced 200,000 graduates in many fields, like this class of 2010 in Penang.

Although Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has bowed to pressure to reinstate government allocations for TAR University College, the conditions he lays to disburse these funds will only prolong this political dispute.

WHEN the government candidate was thrashed in a recent by-election, when bak kut teh hawkers voluntarily raised funds for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC), when non-Chinese joined in the fund-raising campaign – only then the Government realised it must act to end this year-long TAR UC controversy.

The fund-raising drive on the ground has gathered momentum. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), founder of TAR UC, is receiving cheques from donors almost everyday since voters in Tanjong Piai by-election revolted on Nov 16 against the government it previously supported.

The fire of indignation among the Chinese, which has been burning for the past 14 months, must be put out by the government – more so because this political crisis was sparked off by none other the combative Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.

It is learnt that after the Tanjung Piai defeat, strong pressure was exerted on Lim – also the secretary-general of DAP – to tone down his rhetoric and resolve the issue.

To help Lim “save face”, a group of noted professionals – headed by lawyer Datuk Kenny Ng – is working furiously to set up a new trust fund, in a bid to help the Finance Ministry channel unpaid government grants to TAR UC, according to Ng.

This is despite the fact that TAR UC is currently under the management of an existing trust fund – TARC Education Foundation.

“For all of us, this is a call of national service to help TAR UC and the Chinese community. We must register the trust fund soon to beat the December deadline to receive the RM40mil under this year’s budget, ” says the self-proclaimed non-partisan Ng in an interview with Sunday Star.

In the 2019 Budget tabled in Parliament in November 2018, Lim cut off the development expenditure (or RM1-for-RM1 matching grant) for TAR UC, which in the past had received RM30mil-RM60mil matching grant annually from the Finance Ministry.

This was the first time in 50 years this semi-government institution of higher learning, set up in 1969 by the MCA mainly to cater for Chinese students deprived of opportunities to enter public universities, was denied this funding.

And in Lim’s latest 2020 Budget tabled in October, not only was the matching grant for TAR UC not reinstated, but the development fund for the university college was also slashed from RM5.5mil to a mere RM1mil.

The reason Lim gave for removing the funds was that education must be divorced from politics. He insisted that MCA must cede control of TAR UC, and let the institution be run by TAA – an alumni of TAR UC supporting Lim’s views.

But the Chinese community has judged Lim in a different light. His actions are generally seen as an abuse of his government position and power to punish the MCA, its main political rival in past general elections in Chinese-dominant constituencies.

In the last general election (GE14), the DAP almost wiped out the MCA. But one of MCA’s unshaken priced assets is TAR UC, which has produced 200,000 graduates in many fields.

Dr Wee: ‘We will not allow TAR UC, which has served the Chinese community and played a role in national development for 50 years, to be destroyed by Lim Guan Eng and his dirty political gimmicks.’Dr Wee: ‘We will not allow TAR UC, which has served the Chinese community and played a role in national development for 50 years, to be destroyed by Lim Guan Eng and his dirty political gimmicks.’

TAR UC, which Ng considers as a well-managed and clean institution, has served the Chinese community well by providing tertiary education at affordable fees.

The university college has been able to charge low tuition fees mainly because of government funding. Hence if it raises fees due to the cut in grants, poor Chinese families will be hit.

Without a doubt, the group who will suffer collateral damage from Lim’s unstoppable political vendetta against MCA is the Chinese.

Hence, the community – who had in GE14 given DAP overwhelming support – turned defensive alongside MCA when TAR UC’s right to government funding was denied.

Indeed, the Chinese community has an inseparable historical and emotive tie with the institution.

When the MCA started TAR (before it was upgraded to university college to TAR UC in 2013) after striking a political compromise with then ruling Malay party Umno, there was outpouring support from the Chinese in the form of donating land and cash.

Apart from tycoons and politicians, hawkers and trishaw pullers also joined in the donation drives.

Hence, TAR UC can be construed as an education institution “owned jointly” by the MCA, government and Chinese community.

When Lim took away the funding right of TAR UC in November 2018, the education matter quickly morphed into a political – and then a Chinese community – issue. A quiet revolt was in the making from November 2018.

In Tanjung Piai, Chinese electorates – to the astonishment of most politicians – proved they were not the safe “fixed deposit” of any political party.

In GE14, they supported the Pakatan – in which DAP was a senior component party, and sent them to the seat of power in Putrajaya. But on Nov 16, they voted against the ruling coalition, largely due to the injustice done to TAR UC and anger towards other education policies.

In the past year, Chinese community leaders had generally stayed silent on the TAR UC issue – mainly to give the new Pakatan government more time to learn to govern the country properly and fulfill their pre-election pedges.

However, Lim’s condescending style and his incessant oppression of MCA and TAR UC have caused revulsion.

The 15,000-majorty votes won by MCA’s candidate in the Tanjong Piai by election was in part a firm stamp of disapproval on Lim as well as his abrasive handling of the TAR UC issue.

Tanjung Piai results have forced the government to review its funding policy for TAR UC; and on Nov 22, the Finance Ministry announced the reinstatement of RM30mil for the institution.

The amount was arbitrarily raised to RM40mil on Dec 4, without going through the Parliament.

The increase of RM10mil is seen as a political move to appease the Chinese, as well as to pre-emptively stifle an MCA-led massive fund-raising campaign planned for the coming year.

However, the condition that MCA must disown TAR UC stays, according to Lim.

In addition, the government grant would be channeled through a new trust fund to be operated by TAA, the pro-DAP alumni of TAR UC.

TAA’s leadership is made up of former TAR UC students, who have supported Lim and concurred with Lim’s views on the TAR UC issue.

While the Chinese community has hailed the reinstatement of the government grant, the indirect way of channeling the grant has again provoked anger among the deep thinkers.

“It looks like Lim and the Pakatan government have not learnt any lesson from Tanjung Piai. May be they want to see their demise in GE15, ” said a commentator in a Chinese newspaper.

If the government has realised its political mistake of allowing Lim to mess around with TAR UC funding, why doesn’t it now allow the allocation be given direct to TAR UC?

Is the Pakatan government condoning Lim to make another political blunder?

Why waste money, manpower and time in setting up a separate trust fund, which – according to its legal advisor Ng -- will become “redundant” after disbursing the grants to TAR UC?

And why should a group of professionals, many of whom are former students of TAR or TAR UC, be roped in to set up this new trust fund to duplicate the role of existing MCA-led TARC Education Foundation?

In the eyes of MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, these professionals have knowingly or unknowingly become “a tool” for Lim.

TAA Trust Fund members would have to help the Finance Minister impose oppressive conditions on TAR UC before disbursing the grant.

The establishment of the TAA Trust Fund will also deepen existing political wedge and conflicts among TAR UC graduates, Dr Wee analyses.

Lately, the composition of the TARC Education Foundation has become an issue in the open.

The TARC Education Foundation will have to remove 50% of its current board members, and replace them with Lim’s nominees and others.

Ng says he is tasked with the duty to see that TARC Education Foundation complies with the 50% independent representation in its board of trustees (BOT).

In response to these developments, Dr Wee tells Sunday Star: “We have tried to comply all their legal requirements... but whatever we do, they are not happy. It seems they only want MCA to be out of the BOT and TAR UC.”

The MCA leader says TAR UC will not reject money from the new trust fund. However, the TARC Education Foundation will treat the funds from TAA Trust Fund as a “public donation”, rather than a matching grant.

Dr Wee states: “As long as I am the MCA president, there is no way we can accept oppressive conditions. We will not allow TAR UC, which has served the Chinese community and played a role in national development for 50 years, to be destroyed by Lim Guan Eng and his dirty political gimmicks.

“As long as the government does not give TAR UC the allocations direct, we will continue to press for the matching grant and development fund for the institution, duly approved by past Cabinet and Parliament.”


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