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Scholars not biting the hand that feeds them


I REFER to the report “No JPA bursaries for students criticising Government” (The Star, May 1).

As a student, I believe I represent quite a few Public Service Depart­ment (JPA) bursary recipients by writing this response aimed at kindly urging its director-general Datuk Seri Zainal Rahim Seman to retract his statements.

The director-general appears to have interchanged the distinct terms “country” and “government”.

But under clauses 5.4, 5.5 and 5.7 of the JPA contract (batch 2015/16 bursary recipients) it is clear that students only have the obligation to be mindful of actions that may bring detriment to the image of Malaysia.

While the Government decides whether such an action qualifies as being detrimental, it is important to note that it is not the image of the Government that must be maintained. Criticisms of a widely condemned action of any Govern­ment based on rational arguments and strong evidence may contribute to a better image for the country.

It is my proposition that it is the condemned actions of a Govern­ment itself that tarnish the image of a country instead.

The director-general should be cautious in interpreting the provisions of the contract. He may want to consider revising some of them.

This is firstly due to the potential unenforceability in fulfilling certain provisions, in particular Clause 5.6(a): “The student shall not take part directly or indirectly in any political or anti-government activity.”

The difficulty in enforcing such a provision in any court lies in the fact that direct/indirect political activities are not clearly defined in the contract and could include a wide range of activities ranging from debating certain political topics that have little to no reference to the Government of Malaysia or the country itself. This might be problematic for students learning political science or public policy. Acts such as voting for committee members of a partisan student society may also be labelled as a political activity under this provision.

Such a provision would be unenforceable due to its wide scope.

The term “anti-government” activity is also poorly defined.

The difference between “political” and “partisan” is important here and it should have been stressed within the contract that political activity is not necessarily partisan and that criticisms directed at a government do not necessarily constitute anti-government activity.

The director-general should also note that these provisions restrict the freedom of speech enshrined under Article 10(1)(a) of our Federal Constitution.

While restrictions may be imposed, it does not seem that Parliament has enacted any law restricting the freedom of speech of bursary recipients in regard to Malaysia’s image.

JPA, as a public body executing a public function for the government in granting bursaries, should perhaps be more mindful of such attempts to restrict the fundamental rights of citizens without the legislative approval of Parliament.

The JPA grants scholarships and bursaries from government-allocated money. Any attempt to restrict student voice and opinion by JPA is a stab at the democratic process of Malaysia. Yes, loyalty to the country is something that could be expected from them but loyalty or allegiance to a political party that runs the government is not. It should be remembered that the money funding these bursaries come from taxpayers.

We are not biting the hand that feeds us. They are.

GCY

Nottingham, England

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