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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.”

Playing politics with PTPTN

As Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat jabbed at each other trying to score a point on the topic of free education, it was the students who got bruised. The federal government froze the PTPTN loans of students in a Selangor-owned university, Unisel, to prove that the Opposition could not deliver on its promise of free education.

However, the PTPTN loans were reinstated following public outcry against the Higher Education Ministry for its childish political move that jeopardised students’ education.Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, however, made a quick clamber on top of the clamour to declare his side victorious. He claimed that the PR-led Selangor state government had appealed to him to state that “PTPTN was in fact necessary”. Refusing to apologise for the freeze, Khaled insisted that they had exposed the Opposition’s empty promise to scrap education fees.

Khaled was backed by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and PTPTN chairman Ismail Mohamed Said, both of whom dubbed the withheld loan a ‘test’ for PKR. The Selangor government was however, prepared to blaze through the freeze. It announced that it would help finance students who were denied PTPTN loans by selling land owned by Unisel. With the reinstatement of the loans, the funds raised will be used to develop the university instead.

Interestingly, rebukes on the loan freeze also came from BN’s own leaders.  PR was convinced that it was disunity within Umno that led to the loan-freeze fray. Unisel Director Faekah Hussin, who is also political secretary to Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim, claimed that students’ welfare was put at stake due to the tussle between the camps of Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib and Muhyiddin.

While proving a point is fundamental in both political and academic discourse, dragging innocent parties into the fray just for the sake of winning an argument is hardly a display of fine leadership or good sense. Perhaps if our Higher Education Minister placed people before politics, it would help secure his position as a leader in nation-building.

Don’t use our money for your ‘war’

It is hard to tell if BN leaders truly understand our students’ financial plight. Probably not, as the nation’s current RM500 billion in national debt has done little to dampen the government’s eagerness to spend. This is evident as it sought Parliament’s permission to obtain an additional RM13.7 billion – with the largest portion (RM11.2 billion) allocated for some vague ‘treasury general services’.

MalaysiaKini believes that the ‘ services’ are related to pre-election spending, which includes RM1.5 million in additional allocations for all BN MPs. Are taxpayers’ funds to be used for training pro-BN bloggers and social media users, christened by our Prime Minister as BN’s ‘new army’? The Malaysian Insider reported receiving a great amount of email spam that appeared to have originated from BN supporters. Sources also revealed that money is being offered by the ruling coalition to supporters to start BN-friendly blogs. This is on top of the cyber-trooper workshop held in Sabah to train “BN’s new media psychological warfare unit”.

A tip to our ruling coalition: there’s a time-tested way to get good publicity for free – by earning it. A marvellous start would be to use our already-depleting resources to develop, not dupe, the nation.

No resting in peace

Justice is finally served in the death-in-custody case of A. Kugan. Or is it? The police constable found guilty of causing Kugan’s death was slapped with a three-year jail sentence which Hindraf has chided as being too light. Hindraf’s de facto leader and lawyer P. Uthayakumar asserted that the lesser charge and light sentence would not deter other police officers from inflicting violence upon detainees.

Pathologist Dr Abdul Karim Tajuddin was also reprimanded by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) for failing to conduct a proper examination and prepare an honest report. Abdul Karim, who carried out the first post-mortem on Kugan, stated that the victim died of “water in the lungs”. His report was disputed by a second post-mortem by a different pathologist, who had found the cause of death to be severe beatings that led to kidney failure.

The imperfect resolution in Kugan’s case is, unfortunately, more than what other deaths in police custody got. REFSA has highlighted that 55 percent of deaths in custody cases had not been investigated. With more and more legislation put in place to regulate us – from our freedom to assemble to internet postings – would we also find our hands shackled in an interrogation room, at the mercy of a law that is more interested in protecting the police?

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!

[Pic credit: Pointing finger – Frankes/Creative Commons, Student studying – OCAL/]


Click here for previous issues of REFSA Rojak.

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(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of Chee Yi, source:

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...