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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Financial irregularities in a Chinese school



Most of us who were English-educated send our children to Chinese schools because we want our children to learn a language that we failed to pick up when we were young. 
However, to our aghast, there are many financial irregularities in Chinese schools in Malaysia involving either the principals, the Parent-Teacher Associations (PIBG) or the Board of Governors (BOG). 
I want to highlight in particular the BOG and the headmistress of my son’s school, SJK (C) Puay Chai 2. This is only a primary school, but a controversy now revolves around the construction of a sports arena that will cost an estimated RM2.1 million.
The official reason given for the construction of a sports arena was that there was a legitimate request by teachers to have basketball courts for the children to train in. Everyone could accept that idea. 
Teachers approached the PIBG, and the PIBG then sought help from the BOG to look into building the basketball courts. BOG, portrayed as the knight in shining armour, offered to help build what is now going to be known the Teo Soo Cheng sports arena.
Instead of raising funds from the business community, and instead of a simple basketball or volleyball court proposal which originally cost RM1 million, some people from the project team upgraded it into a so-called “world-class” sports arena, and along with it, the cost shot up to RM1.7 million.
Nothing was tabled in the PIBG’s AGM meeting for discussion, but RM1.1 million was raised from parents without permission from the Ministry of Education and put into the BOG fund.
The Selangor Education Department and the Petaling Utama District Education Council failed to address the matter effectively.
Parents were misled
On March 4, 2017, during the AGM, we were suddenly told that the cost of the building had ballooned to RM2.1 million because certain individuals had proposed adding another two open basketball and volleyball courts, and further upgrading work was required. 
The upgrading work costing millions was never tabled in any AGM but at the whims and fancies of the BOG, a letter was sent to the PIBG just a couple of days before the AGM to ask for RM500,000 (according to a parent who co-wrote this article) to cover the shortfall. 
The former PIBG chairman decided to bring up the shortfall request only on the day of the AGM itself and discuss it as a miscellaneous item.  His motion was that BOG needed extra funding. Instead of agreeing to the full RM500,000 request, the school's headmistress suggested that RM300,000 was a more justifiable amount. 
The fact that the headmistress was an adviser to the PIBG, and yet chaired the whole AGM, could render this AGM null and void. This is a decision that the Selangor Education Department could make. The conduct of the Headmistress during the AGM also raises a lot of questions.
Although parents objected strongly to the proposal and wanted it to be discussed thoroughly, since it involves parents’ funds which were never designated for building projects, the headmistress pushed for the motion to be passed hastily.
To make matters worse, the motion that was discussed and passed during the AGM allowed an amount up to a maximum of RM300,000 to be transferred to BOG, while the final agreed amount would be decided by the PIBG committee. This was not officially minuted.
However, to the shock and amazement of parents, the black-and-white minuted AGM that was released after several attempts of asking and pestering by concerned parents instead recorded that the motion had been passed such that the full amount of RM300,000 was agreed to be transferred to the BOG.  A total twist to what was agreed and discussed to during the AGM!
What was mentioned during the meeting, such as the escalated cost of construction, was not recorded in the AGM minutes.
In the first place, not a single sen of the money was designated for the building fund. Due to my and other parents’ dissatisfaction with the management of the basketball court project, I filed a complaint with the Selangor Education Department on May 30. The department instructed the PIBG not to transfer the RM 300,000 to the BOG, although paradoxically they also said that the money should be paid to the contractors, as the PIBG chairman had already agreed to pay them.
The complaint is now at the ministry level, and the Selangor Education Department has 15 working days to file their official report on this matter.
Separate funds needed
The late Teo Soo Cheng's son, Chiang Kok, was offered the chance by the previous PIBG committee to have the sports arena named after his father, since he donated approximately RM300,000 towards the project. 
This was when the original plan and cost of construction was estimated to be RM1 million. Now that the cost of construction has been revised upwards beyond RM2 million, should the offer remain the same and not be renegotiated by the PIBG?
My contention is that RM300,000 can be raised easily by Chiang Kok with the help of his own siblings in order to preserve the honour and legacy of their late father.
Since the building is named after the late Teo Soo Cheng, he and his siblings should chip in to address the shortfall or revert to a simpler basketball or volleyball court costing RM1 million. 
Projects undertaken by the BOG should be funded independently without using PIBG funds; therefore, the BOG should not be utilising parents' money for their projects.
Putting things into perspective, the role of the BOG is to help the school raise funds from philanthropists and to manage infrastructure development; whereas the PIBG organises activities that take care of students’ welfare. This also includes minor projects that enhances the school’s physical infrastructure to provide conveniences for the children.
Being a non-legal entity, technically the BOG has no local standing in the school and little recognition by the Ministry of Education. This is something which I believe the current chairman of the PIBG and the school's headmistress have failed to recognise.
While we welcome the generosity of any big donors, please do not touch parents' funds.
To sum it all up, the crux of the problem here is that when a humble project with an original RM1 million budget was passed on to the BOG to manage, its cost was inflated from RM1 million to RM2.1 million.  It is unfortunate that the limited few PIBG representatives who were present at the construction progress meeting did not stand up and question the necessity of the extra funds. 
What is the point in having luxury sports facilities if children are too young to care for it?  Plus, ultimately, it is parents who will be paying for the subsequent maintenance fee anyway. 
The decision to upgrade and inflate the cost of the project twofold was made and decided by the BOG team who was managing the basketball court project. Yet parents were asked to pay for it.  Isn’t this a big question mark and cause for concern? 
Editor’s note: Malaysiakini reached out to SJK (C) Puay Chai 2 for comment. A spokesperson for the school denied that the estimated cost of the sports arena had increased to RM2.1 million after the school’s board of governors took over the management of the project. The spokesperson also denied that the school’s administration had influenced funding decisions made in the PIBG’s AGM, and added that the school had already settled the issue with the Selangor Education Department.- Mkini

1 comment:

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