Bersara MARA

Considering the significance of MARA’s scholarship/loan evaluation and selection process of viable students and enforcement policies and execution after perusing its list of defaulters published in the newspapers every now and again.

MARA

Every once in a while I notice that MARA (Majlis Amanah Rakyat) prints a list in our local newspapers of students they gave study loans or scholarships to. The list is not a roll call of their best students and their achievements like those published by the private colleges and universities in our country. It is not a list of honour. It is MARA’s list of shame. That list it prints comprises those defaulting students who have not paid for their study loans or scholarships that MARA knows about.

Of interest is the racial composition of that list – at least 95% of those on the list are Malays who comprise 60% of the Malaysian population. The other 5% are made up of the Chinese, Indian, various groups of the Orang Asli of East and West Malaysia that collectively comprise 35-38% of our population.

That composition could mean one of two things: It could mean that most of the loans and scholarships given by MARA are to the Malays up to a total of 95% of the benefits given and the non-Malays a meager 5%; or it could mean that scholarships are given equitably (whatever that MARA criteria imposes) as between the Malay and non-Malay students but the Malay students are on average worse at paying back their loans.

If the former, then it means MARA has betrayed its namesake by skewing the bulk of its resources towards the Malays – it says rakyat, not melayu, not bumiputera (translation: sons of the earth. It also means that MARA’s operational policy is in flagrant breach of Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution which provides as follows:

“Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.”

If the latter, then it means many Malay students that MARA assists are from an economic perspective poor investments where education is concerned.

I know that some loans MARA gives out are convertible into a full scholarship if the student obtains an upper second or a first class honours at their respective universities; if, however, they score lower second-class honours and below, the students would have to repay the loan.

Interestingly, if you look at the very bottom of the list, that portion with a black background, it sets out the conditions for qualifying for the reduction of the loan/scholarship amount. One of two conditions is that the student must have lulus pengajian di bawah tajaan MARA (translation: they must complete their course). This means some of those listed did not even finish or failed their course. MARA conveniently and regrettably does not mention which of those students wasted that precious educational opportunity so miserably. They also do not mention which of them obtained a lower grade than was expected of them.

In either case, the list is a damning indictment of MARA’s reckless scholarship/loan evaluation and selection process of viable students skewed towards the Malays and enforcement policies and execution. That is on top of the betrayal of its namesake I mentioned earlier.

Spending money on a student has to be undertaken like any other business deal – there must be a return of investment. Where scholarships and loans funded by government are concerned, the return of investment is in their ability to contribute to the country after they have completed their studies or completed development of their skills. This contribution can be in the form of economic, artistic, psychological, emotional constructive activity, which if allowed to develop to their full potential would benefit the rakyat and in time the country.

That means MARA should be only be spending our painfully paid taxes on students that have reasonable potential for contributing positively to the country. Not any and every Ali, Abu and Ahmad no matter how poor their educational potential. That means MARA should have a sensible process in place to evaluate the students worthy of financial assistance or educational sponsorship. This process should not be purely based on educational grades but health, psychological and emotional considerations as well because these factors can affect the student’s and the nation’s future potential.

To spend money on students who do not satisfy these basic criteria would be a waste of the rakyat’s money because there would be no constructive activity from them. Worse, they would be an expensive drag on society because that opportunity to develop someone more deserving would have been lost. It is for this reason that civilized countries direct a lot of their societal resources towards the development of their better students because that translates to a better future.

That MARA often publishes their list of defaulters shows that its evaluation and selection process is a failure. They have spent the rakyat’s money wastefully. In the New Straits Times on 31 January 2010, they printed two pages with 600 names. If we take a grossly conservative estimate of RM 40,000.00 per student for their entire tertiary education including living expenses (which I don’t know and have just plucked that figure from the air), that list of defaulters would amount RM 24 million. So in that list alone we may have not lost just that RM 24 million but the opportunity of properly investing it. And that is just 600 students. How many more defaulters there are? What is the true cost of MARA’s negligence?

We don’t know because MARA doesn’t tell us and the government does not either. It is understandable because the Board of MARA should resign after they do so. That is the least they can do for their abject failure if not betrayal in best developing and nurturing our youth’s educational endeavours with the resources at their disposal.

MARA is also an utter failure because we so often read (in the local newspapers) of Malaysians, mostly non-Malays, deserving of a scholarship or at very least a loan to pursue their dreams who are denied it. In their place, MARA threw away that opportunity to some mediocre Malays. Well, I do not doubt that MARA may have sponsored some good students (be it Malay or not), would not be at all surprised if the bulk of them were utterly mediocre.

MARA should publish a list of all the students they award loans and scholarships to every year along with the universities they are going to, the courses they intend to do and what honours those students graduate with. We the rakyat have the right to know because that is our money that they are spending, nay, investing. I also wonder whether MARA has done a survey on firstly, the underperformance of those students so measures can be taken to avoid wasting resources on them, and secondly a survey of where those MARA students have ended to see how they fared. That should be published too because this is about being accountable for the resources they have at their disposal.

The list is also lacking in terms of details about how long that failure to pay the loan/scholarships have existed. There is a limitation period of 6 years for MARA to initiate legal action failing which the former students can raise the complete defence of limitation against the claim. This is provided for under section 6(1) of the Limitation Act 1953.

I mention this because if you turn to the bottom of the list again, you will notice that the other qualifying condition for a reduction in the loan/scholarship is that the bantuan pinjaman yang ditawarkan pada 01.01.1985 dan keatas kecuali bagi pengajian di peringkat Sarjana dan PhD di bawah Skim Pinjaman Terbuka (SPT) mulai 01.01.1998. What this translate to is that MARA is making claims for loans/scholarship repayments from as early as 1985 i.e. 25 years ago, and as early as 1998 i.e. 12 years ago, for those under the Open Loan Scheme. Again there is no indication which of those students fall in either of this categories in the list.

It is fair to infer from this that MARA has merely listed those defaulters that it cannot legally claim from any longer in the hope that they will now settle their dues by shaming them. It can also be inferred that MARA has been negligent in ensuring repayment of those loans to the tune of millions. The rakyat’s millions. MARA has forgotten that its duty is not just to give loans and scholarships to mostly the Malays. It’s duty is to the rakyat – each and every Malaysian regardless of race – and to make sure those loans/scholarships are repaid.

An investigation should be launched into why MARA failed to take proactive measures to enforce those loans and scholarships before the limitation period sets in.

If that is not bad enough, the second part to the notice at the bottom contains this:

Peminjam yang tidak disenaraikan di atas tetapi masih belum membuat sebarang pembayaran balik pinjaman pelajaran/biasiswa dan pinjaman komputer pelajar MARA, adalah dikehendaki menghubungi Bahagian Kawalan Kredit MARA seperti alamat dan nombor telefon/faks seperti di atas.

(Translation: Borrowers that are not listed above but have not made any repayment of their study loan/scholarship and MARA student computer loans, are required to contact the MARA Credit Control Department at the address and telephone/fax numbers above.)

A reasonable inference from this is that MARA does not even have a complete list of their defaulters. Otherwise, why not list them? If they had them, why list some and not others? Further, does MARA really think these people will willingly contact them to settle their dues? They avoided and kept quiet in the first place. There is now even less incentive for them to do so now since limitation may have set in and MARA does not even know who they are.

MARA in English means “The Council of Public Trust”. The list has demonstrated that MARA has failed the public and cannot be trusted to manage and nurture our youth’s educational development. MARA has been negligent in wasting the taxpayer’s money by failing to enforce the repayment of scholarships and loans. And this is just one important area MARA is engaged in.

They may be the Council of Public Trust but I would not trust MARA with our youth, never mind our money and our country’s future.

Maybe it’s time for MARA to bersara (retire).

(Disclosure: I was a recipient of a loan from MARA (for my second and third year undergraduate law program) that was convertible to a full scholarship if I graduated with upper second class honours. I was fortunate enough with such honours.)

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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 16 February 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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