Maszlee – behind the black shoes

I was inspired to write this article after reading all the comments in Malaysiakini bashing Maszlee Malik.

Maszlee Malik’s sudden resignation took many people including me by surprise. It seems that he was forced into the resignation by the Prime Minister. One wonders what the plan is since before Maszlee was appointed the only other person who was interested in the job was Mahathir himself. Reading between the lines of Maszlee’s resignation speech would confirm that Mahathir wanted him out. 

Maszlee has definitely been made a scapegoat here. He was made to look like a dumb minister who doesn’t know his job. Sensational media reporting put him always in the defensive mode.

He was polled as the second lowest – 27 out 28 in Malaysiakini’s poll on Ministers’ performance. This is understandable because most Malaysiakini readers are middle class, mostly non-Malay and have a definite bias against him. They fear that Maszlee with his Islamic credentials was going to turn our education system into an Islamic one. Most DAP leaders scored high points. Now imagine if Harakah conducted a similar poll and you will know how the outcome would be.

The black shoe labelling never left him and it was always used to ridicule and undermine him. I am sure if we took a vote among students, they would prefer black shoes to white. Anyway that is not the point here.

Mahathir has decided to replace him and therefore it would be easy now to put all the blame on the Jawi issue, matriculation and other controversial stuff on him.  Two of Mahathir’s staunch supporters Tun Daim and Rafidah Aziz have constantly taken swipes at him and that is further indication that he has fallen out of favour with the Mighty M.

Let me share a personal experience and tell you why some of us have a soft spot for him. JPKK which is a network of contract workers in Government departments has been campaigning over the years to improve the plight of contract workers mainly cleaners and security guards in schools. We have previously tried in vain to meet with the previous Education Minister. The only people who met us were some officers and department heads who were not in a position to make decisions.

But the PH Education Minister Maszlee quite readily gave us an appointment to meet and have a dialogue with us. I was very skeptical before the meeting based on the bad image formed in my mind about him. Before the meeting, his office asked for our memorandum and proposal, which was itself quite out of the ordinary.

At the meeting, we were pleasantly surprised to note that he had actually read our memorandum beforehand. He was not pretending as if he knew everything, which most ministers try to do. He addressed each of our proposals and directed his officials to act on them. He then told us that he will bring up our proposals in the cabinet meeting the next day. I thought he was pulling a fast one because that is what most ministers tell you. True to his promise, he issued a media statement after the cabinet meeting, saying that he raised the issue of parasitic and underperforming crony contractors and stated that they will be blacklisted and replaced. He also said that the whole system needed to be relooked and agreed to look into our proposal to employ workers directly and not through a middleperson who in many instances ended up taking a portion of the salary of the workers. This was the first Minister who actually looked at the fundamental issue rather than give the usual excuses.

Since then, we had the pleasure of working with some of his officers, specifically Shaza, who used to update us on a weekly basis, working past office hours, listening to the many complaints we raised about the problematic contract system in school. This attitude changed our view that most of those working in Government ‘makan gaji buta’ and just work 9 to 5. For that, let me salute them.

Now let me touch on other issues not raised in the current petition going around supporting him.  For example, under Maszlee, student activists were more protected; he prevented university authorities from taking action on students each time they expressed themselves through protests and other actions. During the previous administration, the Minister always stood with the establishment and not the students. That is something which helped students to express themselves knowing very well that they had protection from disciplinary action.

I was also told by many teachers that Maszlee made many reforms in the school system but many of his reforms did not go well on the ground because the bureaucracy was not assisting. It is not surprising that the Teachers Union NUTP speaks so highly of him. Many teachers too have since expressed how Maszlee did actually addresses some of the main issues raised by teachers.

He made many u-turns after bringing matters to the cabinet. This can be seen with the matriculation issue and the Jawi issue. It may be that he is inexperienced as he has always stated himself, or maybe he should have talked less like the many PH Ministers who don’t say much, preferring to be silent in order to survive. Most of these issues were tough issues like JAWI, Matriculation and Unified Examination Certificate (UEC). These are issues which have been there for 6 decades which PH as a team have been unable to address since they end up playing the same racial game like the BN. Therefore it is unfair that Maszlee is blamed when on all occasion, the cabinet took the decision with of course ayahanda Mahathir sitting at the helm.

On other issues  –  free quality breakfast,  opening up hotel swimming pools to students, doing away with streaming and exams, making education accessible to OKUs and undocumented children. These are huge achievements compared to the black shoe, achievements that hardly got mentioned. It was reported that he opened 10,200 classes to cater for 24,998 OKU special children. On all these initiatives, I am with him because he has contributed towards creating a more caring society and opening up public spaces for the commons.

Since coming to power, he has resigned twice. First, after being appointed as the President of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) when students and many others spoke about conflict of interest and secondly as Education Minister now. On the first occasion, even Mahathir supported his appointment but he took the right decision to resign. This time he had no choice.  Mahathir called for his resignation and this could be part of a likely cabinet reshuffle. Maszlee should feel happy that  he was not removed due to corruption or other scandals. He went in without a Datukship and came out without one. To Maszlee all the best.

S.Arutchelvan

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