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Handling UEC issue with political willpower

  • It is utterly important that a final and bold political decision is made right now, not just as a political rhetoric meant to please the voters in the run-up to election.

By Dr Jeniri Amir

The issue of UEC recognition has been like thorn in the flesh for both the Malaysian government and the local Chinese community.

Despite many promises made, the issue has not been settled in the least. There have been numerous narratives made, including emotional and unrealistic ones.

The issue of UEC recognition must not been seen from the perspectives of race or politics, but must be looked at with wisdom.

When Pakatan Harapan promised before GE14 to recognize the UEC certificate, sure enough it gave the local Chinese community as well as stakeholders a big hope.

The Chinese community and voters saw that eventually there was going to be light at the end of the tunnel for this chronic issue. However, it now appears that handling of this issue is not going to be easy, and the lack of government effort to bring UEC recognition to reality has disenchanted many people who have since become frustrated with the PH administration.

It's like sitting down here waiting for Musang King that refuses to fall from the tree. So, for how long more will the local Chinese community have to wait, or will they continue to be disappointed?

A detailed study on the recognition of UEC should have been ready for cabinet review in July but so far this has yet to be done.

The sensitivity in relation to this issue has resulted in it being repeatedly delayed, to an extent that it has developed into a controversial racial issue that benefits no one. It is imperative that the PH government seriously look into this issue. Otherwise, it will be perceived as nothing different from the previous BN administration. This is particularly relevant at a time the ruling coalition's public image and reputation have suffered badly as a consequence of non-fulfillment of its election pledges. PH must not be seen as indecisive and insincere, or it may have to face really grave consequences. It should bear in mind that this issue means a lot for the Malaysian Chinese community, and must not be perceived as a party that is only good at making promises but is not ready to honor them with all kinds of excuses.

The longer the delay, the worse it will be for Malaysians and the PH government, especially with several states already recognizing UEC, including Penang, Selangor, Melaka, Sabah and Sarawak.

The issue needs to be looked at professionally, objectively and with wisdom. No racial emotional factors must be entailed in this whole thing, or else there will be no way out for a solution that will benefit all quarters.

PH must have political audacity and wisdom in honoring the promises inscribed in its election manifesto.

Education minster Maszlee Malik has said his ministry hopes that there will be no more delays from the special committee on UEC in completing its final report for submission to the cabinet.

The committee's chairman Eddin Khoo was quoted last Wednesday as saying he would apply for deferment of the submission of the final report which should have been ready last Monday.

It is understood that the committee still h ave some 20% of work yet to be done before completing the report and proposals for the education ministry. The committee also needs more time to collect feedback from stakeholders such as MPs. A session to collect feedback from MPs will be held on October 16 before finalizing the report for presentation to the government.

Indeed there should not be any reason not to recognize UEC if it meets all the conditions stipulated, including a pass in Bahasa Malaysia in SPM. Such requirements are uncompromisable so as not to jeopardize national importance.

In view of this, the government needs to handle the issue with wisdom by taking into consideration the views of relevant parties.

The approach adopted must be one that benefits everyone and not one particular party.

Owing to the sensitivity of this issue, the Malaysian Chinese community needs to be more realistic that it is not possible for the government to satisfy all their requests because the education ministry needs to evaluate and make the right decisions based on the long-term benefits of the country in the context of our pluralistic society as well as the country's education system.

Local Chinese associations' requests will be met but not all of them, based on the input and proposals obtained from the special committee after meeting with various parties at grassroots levels.

What is important is that the government must do something that is best for this country without jeopardizing national aspiration.

The opponents of UEC recognition have seen it as contravening Article 152 of the Federal Constitution for directly undermining national aspiration of promoting unity among all citizens of this country through education. These people are of the opinion that UEC recognition will sabotage the national education policy besides eroding the superior status of the national language.

We need to take a forward move and make a bold, balanced and professional decision for the well-being of this country. Before a resolute and final decision is made, and as long as the issue continues to be politicized especially when the general election draws near, there is no way for us to move forward with certainty and confidence.

We must be seen by the world as a nation capable of making precise, bold and wise decisions for the good of this country and not to sweep the issue under the carpet as if it never existed, while in reality it is like the elephant in the room and the mother of all political issues.

In 1975, Dong Zong, an organization representing 60 independent Chinese high schools in the country, urged the government to allow these schools to conduct UEC examinations. During the initial stage, then education minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad rejected Dong Zong's request although he later approved it.

This issue must not become a burden to the country and be politicized in such a way that it hurts national solidarity and division in our multicultural society.

The principle of inclusiveness should become a strength for the education system in this country. Moreover, competency in multiple languages is definitely a prerequisite to ensure that an individual remains relevant in our modern world.

Our future survival is very much determined by the quality of education received by our people. If UEC is really good and needs to be recognized by the government, then why not?

We cannot afford to look at education of today and tomorrow from the scope of history and the past. We must come out from our narrow alley into the highway of tomorrow by acting outside our cocoon of history and race.

It is important that our Malay and bumiputra students should not just have a good command of the national language and English alone. They should strive to also learn the Chinese language which is not only relevant in this country but also the future world in view of the phenomenal rise of China as a global political and economic power.

Meanwhile, Chinese students in this country need to learn the Malay language in order to more effectively communicate with their fellow compatriots in the Malay/bumi community

Sarawak chief minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg declared in early 2017 that the state government would continue to recognize UEC and provide financial assistance to Chinese schools in the state, making it the first in the country to officially recognize UEC.

In Sarawak and even in the entire nation, it has to be recognized that Chinese language education is not exclusive for the Chinese community alone but also bumiputra students.

A fair and just education policy will enable the country to go much further from here. Sure enough the PH government and indeed everyone of us want the competent Chinese people to serve the country and contribute positively towards its development and continued progress.

If UEC can fulfill the aspiration of a big section of the Malaysian society, why doesn't the government decisively recognize it instead of keeping us continuously haunted by the same old issue in future?

It is utterly important that a final and bold political decision is made right now, not just as a political rhetoric meant to please the voters in the run-up to election.

(Dr Jeniri Amir is political analyst from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Unimas.)


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