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Foong Li Mei brings to you another edition of REFSA Rojak, a weekly take on the goings-on in Malaysia by Research for Social Advancement (REFSA).

REFSA Rojak – “trawl the newsflow, cut to the core and focus on the really pertinent. Full of flavour, lots of crunch, this is the concise snapshot to help Malaysians keep abreast of the issues of the day.”

PTPTN : The great divide

Instead of passively nodding (off, perhaps) in lecture halls, some 500 students marched the KL streets to shake their fists at the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN), demanding free tertiary education.

Charging that the PTPTN was exploitative, some protesters pitched tents at Dataran Merdeka to ’symbolise the life of hardship facing the students’. Despite orders from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) enforcement officers to leave, the students vowed to stay put at the square until April 28. An attack by thugs also failed to dent the students’ commitment to their cause.

PTPTN was accused of being a ‘loan shark’ that commercialises education with unreasonable interest rates. Students lamented being saddled by huge debts upon graduation. The protesters also claimed that the government can afford to provide free education with our tax revenue and rich natural resources.

Keadilan leader Datuk Seri Anwar reiterated that loan repayments will be abolished if the Pakatan Rakyat coalition captures Putrajaya, but stressed that the rich must pay. The Malaysian Insider columnist Dr Kamal Azman is not impressed with such promises, claiming that writing off student loans at the expense of Petronas and taxpayers breeds a culture of irresponsibility. The Higher Education Minister dared the student protesters to give up their PTPTN loans.

The PTPTN dilemma is, however, more than just a debate on debts. In his column in The Malaysian Insider, PKR’s social media strategist Praba Ganesan delved deeper into how the flaws of the education loan made it a ‘cash cow’ for opportunistic university administrations, with the graduates as collateral damage.

While REFSA does not agree that loans should be written off, we nonetheless take our hats off to the students for making a stand. This harks back to the 1960s when students were active and vibrant movers for their causes – a stark contrast to the much-lamented subservient mentality of their successors  today. Fortunately, since the political tsunami of 2008, and mass rallies like Bersih 2.0, youths have been injected with the adrenaline for change. While their demands may be debatable, the anti-PTPTN rally may well set the stage for more youth activism.

Still no relinquishing of power

Journalism bodies remain sceptical towards the amendments of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA).

The amendments remove the Home Minister’s absolute discretion over printing press licenses, as well as the publishing and printing of newspapers. The renewal of licenses is also no longer necessary.

Nonetheless, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) pointed out the minister’s right to suspend or revoke printing permits means the print media is still under government control. Both bodies have called for the PPPA to be ’completely and unconditionally removed’ instead.

Back and forth

The government has hit the ‘escape’ key to abandon consultation with stakeholders regarding the Computing Professionals Act (CPA) 2011. The Science, Technology and Innovation ministry (Mosti) has given the draft of the bill back to the private sector, citing that it was they who had drafted it first.

REFSA had earlier expressed its reservations about MOSTI facilitating this Bill at the behest of multinational companies and industry leaders. Will the Board of Computing Professionals (BCPM), which the Bill has called to be set up, be dominated by the same IT giants? Will these business leaders be impartial in regulating smaller start-ups with innovations that may not sit well with their interests?

Read more on why REFSA is against the fundamentally flawed CPA 2011.

Yellow on the go

Dubious voters are no small matter, despite the Election Commission (EC) waving it off as a minuscule  0.3 percent of the electoral roll. However, Bersih asserted that 0.3 percent was enough to have allowed Barisan Nasional to retain Selangor in the 2008 General Elections.

As discrepancies in the electoral roll surface, Malaysians’ support for the yellow movement of Bersih has spread across the world map. Global Bersih has launched its official website, and rallies are scheduled in 41 cities in 14 countries.

On local soil, Malaysians gearing up for the sit-in protest are receiving encouragement from even Umno members. Tamrin Abdul Ghafar, son of former deputy prime minister Abdul Ghafar Baba, told a pre-Bersih 3.0 gathering that he could ’no longer bear to see the electoral system being manipulated’. He also conveyed the support of Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah for the movement.

Sit for your stand on free and fair elections – join Bersih 3.0 at Dataran Merdeka on April 28!

Why ‘Rojak’? Disparate flavours and textures come together in a harmonious mix to make this delicious but underrated concoction. Our Rojak weekly is much like this mix, making sense of the noise of daily newsflow and politicking.

It is also our ultimate dream that our multi-ethnic melange of communities can be made richer within the unique ‘sauce’ that is Malaysia. Let’s take pride in the ‘rojakness’ of our nation!

Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive...