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Is the post of Higher Education Minister jinxed where the Minister easily loses independent judgment, national perspective and sense of right and wrong causing enormous embarrassment to the government, the Prime Minister and the nation in international academic circles
In a matter of five months, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad has made the same mistake his predecessor, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh took more than a year to make – to defend the utterly indefensible and in the process undermining not only his credibility and authority as Higher Education Minister, but embarrassing the government and the Prime Minister as well bringing into international disrepute the academic standards and standing of Malaysian universities.
The downfall of Shafie as the first Higher Education Minister was because of his failure to discharge his Ministerial responsibilities to check the excesses and abuses of power of the former “BillBoard” Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya, Dr. Hashim Yaacob, culminating in the Dr. Terence Gomez episode requiring the personal intervention of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to “reinstate” the Associate Professor and approve his secondment to take up a prestigious United Nations research appointment in Geneva.
Datuk Mustapha Mohamad started off as the second Higher Education Minister five months ago, with the highest of hopes and best of wishes from all concerned about higher education that he will single-mindedly devote himself to the challenge to check the erosion and decline of university academic standards and quality and start the hard and painful process to turn the public universities into world-class universities.
Muhamad should know that Shafie was the butt of jokes when the latter was Higher Education Minister in his handling of the Terence Gomez case and the “Billboard” Vice Chancellor, and these episodes are still being recollected to the accompaniment of guffaws by academicians, civil servants, Parliamentarians and Cabinet Ministers.
Is the post of Higher Education Minister really jinxed that in a short period of five montjhs, Mustapha is now making the same mistake committed by Shafie – failure of political and intellectual leadership in defending the indefensible with his speech in Parliament yesterday on the biased, tendentious, provocative, disgraceful and academically sub-standard Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) guidebook on Ethnic Relations?
The Parliamentary debate yesterday is a sad commentary of something very wrong not only with education policies – whether primary, secondary or tertiary – but the whole question of nation-building on the eve of Malaysia’s half-century nationhood.
Parliament should be focusing on how to restore academic excellence and eminence of our universities, but instead, it was bogged down with the issue of the biased, tendentious, provocative and substandard guidebook on Ethnic Relations, which has become a compulsory subject for university students, by UPM lecturers Jayum Anak Jawan and Zaid Ahmad.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Nazri Aziz, had rightly condemned the UPM guidebook as seditious and a disservice to Malaysian nation-building.
But Mustapha, in typical Shafie-fashion, had blithely and irresponsibly defended the UPM guidebook, including the “historic lies” camouflaged as “historic facts” whether on May 13, 1969 Incident, the 1999/2000 Suqiu electoral appeals or the 2001 Kampong Medan riots, compounding the situation with his refusal to withdraw the UPM guidebook on Ethnic Relations.
It is the height of irresponsibility on Mustapha’s part to try to minimize the gravity of the issue by claiming that it was only a “guidebook” and not a “textbook”, ignoring the fact that it had been sold to UPM students since the start of its semester in January this year for RM9 a copy, or RM6 for a phostated copy!
It was another height of irresponsibility when he said university students who disagreed with the guidebook “can debate it during the Ethnic Relations class”!
Is Mustapha serious suggesting that in the Ethnic Relations class, in rebuttal of the biased, tendentious and provocative guidebook, students have full freedom to argue about who had caused the May 13, 1969 Incidents or the 2001 Taman Medan riots, as well as whether UMNO and Barisan Nasional had been irresponsible, opportunistic and hypocritical on the Suqiu issue in endorsing it to get Chinese votes in 1999 general election and turning against it after the polls, even accusing its supporters as akin to communist and Al-Maunah elements?
Can students in the Ethnic Relations class stand up and say that it was UMNO or Gerakan which caused the May 13 Incident, or quote Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman who implied that certain elements in UMNO were responsible for the May 13 Incident, or the then Australian Deputy High Commissioner W.B. Prichett who had at the time noted:
“…there can be no doubt that UMNO was solely responsible for the riots. Its members ran the communal campaign or allowed it to happen.”
The guidebook by Jaya Jawan and Zaid Ahmad is a most sloppy work.
For instance, in page 83 the guidebook said: “Perlembagaan Malaysia juga memperuntukkan DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di Pertuan Agong sebagai Ketua Agama Islam Negara Malaysia”.
There is just no such constitutional position of the Yang di Pertuan Agong as Ketua Agama Islam Negara Malaysia.
It is shocking that in a book on ethnic relations, there is not a single reference to Rukunegara, as if the five principles of Malaysian nation-building had been completely repudiated by the two UPM lecturers by ignoring their very existence altogether.
Mustapha’s defence of the UMNO propaganda that Suqiu appeals were “extremist” during the parliamentary debate yesterday is most deplorable, especially as most of the nine appeals listed in the guidebook as offensive had at one time or another been adopted by one or another Barisan Nasional party apart from UMNO, whether in the speeches of their leaders or resolutions – including the call for the abolition of the division of Malaysians into bumiputras and non-bumiputras.
Is Mustapha suggesting that any non-UMNO Barisan Nasional Minister, Deputy Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, MP or State Assembly member should be removed from office for having made such calls and not recanted?
Mustapha should salvage his totally inept handling of the UPM Ethnic Relations guidebook controversy before it is too late. It would be most shameful if the intervention of the Prime Minister would be required, like in the case of his predecessor.
Mustapha should direct the immediate withdrawal of the UPM guidebook on Ethnic Relations for being insensitive, biased, tendentious, sub-standard and totally unsuitable for Malaysian university students. The guidebook does not promote ethnic relations but the opposite – aggravating racial polarization not only in the university campuses but in the larger Malaysian society.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman