MGG: The Oracle speaks: No racial discrimination in schools!
By M.G.G. Pillai
1/4/2002 1:28 am Mon
The Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, comes in, like
the Oracle of old, to defuse what cannot. The National Union of
the Teaching Profession (NUTP) complained of racial segregation
in primary schools. The government denied it, set up a special
committee of retired educationists to blame NUTP -- it dutifully
did --, demanded an unqualified public apology. And soon lost
control. As usual, it did not think through what it would do.
The UMNO youth leader and a federal cabinet minister, Dato'
Hishamuddin Hussein, called it a non-Malay attempt to denigrate
national schools. His cabinet colleague, Datin Siti Zaharah
Suleiman, toted statistics to state about 500 villages sit in a
racial cauldron that could explode if nothing is done to avert
it. Two headmasters threatened to sue the NUTP secretary-general
for RM1 million in defamation damages. It appeared soon enough
the manufactured crisis was to put him in his place.
This confrontation had a manufactured quality of its own,
the government losing ground with statement it made. It would
not accept that racial discrimination and segregation is a way of
life in primary schools as it is throughout the education system,
and in all walks of life. If the committee had accepted it, and
suggested how to overcome it, the government would have been
stronger. Instead, it redounds on itself. The police got into
the act. It interviews the Parent Teachers Associations who
raised it first, NUTP officers, and others. The claim it
sedition, for which, on conviction, one can be jailed for three
years and fined RM5,000. If it was, why did not the police step
in when the issue surfaced? It kept quiet. And came in only
when the government lost control of it.
Only the Oracle could then defuse it. He did. He had to.
Otherwise, his administration would look even more bumbling.
Consider the matter closed, says he. The headmasters should not
sue, "they are trying to make money". How did they threaten to
sue without consulting the education ministry? If they did, did
the ministry advise them to go ahead? If they did not, why did
they not? And would the education ministry discipline them?
The mainstream newspapers fanned the flames, focussing on the man
who made the allegation and not the allegation itself. Too many
questions rise. None puts the government in a good light. Why
is the special committee report not made public? The NUTP is
given a summary, not the whole report. Could it be it is not,
for what it contains that would make it a laughing stock?
So, as almost always, this manufactured end to a
manufactured crisis undermines official confidence. Even the
deputy prime minister, in charge while the Oracle was on official
visits outside the country, believed racial discrimination and
segregation could occur in apartheid South Africa, not in Dr
Mahathir's Malaysia. If on a matter of such importance, indeed a
cornerstone of Malaysia's multiracial policy, it fumbles and
bumbles through, can one trust its intentions and actions in
other serious issues. If the prime minister has to step in to
defuse a crisis, it suggests a cabinet which knows not what it
does, happy to fan it into a conflagration, and shut up when the
Prime Minister steps in. And this is the best solution the
National Front could come with? Where were the Indian and
Chinese ministers, who know what happened and kept quiet.
In the end, it is yet another storm in a teacup in a land
where a million teacups break out in storms simultaneously. But
the government chooses to deal with the one it focusses on. And
that it fumbles and bumbles. What frightens is it is unaddressed
as it should: calmly, rationally, with a view to rectifying it.
When the Prime Minister stepped in, it is an order to push it
under the proverbial carpet. To stop discussion, the Sedition
Act is invoked. But what is swept under the carpet grows bigger.
And could one day unleash a conflagration that would make the May
1969 riots a garden party. Especially when the government
insists it knows what is best, and those who disagree is better
off in jail or bankrupt. What is also ensures is that it causes
racial tensions further down the years when today's architects of
it have all gone to the Malaysia In The Sky.