COMMENT | I doubt that Dr Mahathir Mohamad will ever remove Maszlee Malik as education minister. The prime minister has said that while he is aware of “underperforming” ministers, he is prepared to give them more time to buck up.
That is the prerogative of the prime minister and we have to accept his decision even if we do not agree with it.
Nonetheless, that should not stop us from voicing our concerns and giving him our honest and sincere feedback. Whether our prime minister listens or not is irrelevant. It’s good enough that he has been informed.
This article is to put on record the online petition initiated by the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS), the NGO which I head, signed by 846 people requesting that Maszlee be removed as education minister.
The petition went online for two weeks beginning last Dec 25. Out of the 846 signatories, 95 percent of them are Sarawakians.
We must also make it clear that it was not a knee-jerk reaction by MoCS. We observed and took note of the public feedback after Maszlee’s "medan dakwah" declaration for more than a week before finding it necessary to kick off the petition to the prime minister.
Our petition read: “The Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) wishes to petition the prime minister, YAB Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, to remove Dr Maszlee Malik as education minister.
“We have tolerated Maszlee's many blunders over the past seven months.
“His recent pronouncement of encouraging religious teachers from Terengganu and Kelantan to make Sarawak and Sabah the 'medan dakwah' (propaganda field or "battleground") for Islamisation has stepped on the raw nerves of the peoples in the two Borneo states.
“Maszlee's statement made in the august Parliament, although he claimed to have been misunderstood, is outright insensitive and totally unacceptable to Sarawakians and Sabahans.
“It is clear that Maszlee knows next to nothing about the traditions, culture and religious sensitivities of the large Christian facade of Sabah and Sarawak. His Islamic pronouncement is just intolerable.
“He is unfit to be the minister of education and a downright disgrace to the Malaysian cabinet. Enough is enough! We hope YAB can act expeditiously on this matter.”
What is interesting is that almost all who signed the petition gave their reasons for doing so. Here are a few samples:
- I’m signing this because I want my children to be in a sound education system like in Europe. I don’t see that happening here with this minister.
- This minister is not a role model for Malaysian students. After being found out about his biases, he did not bother to apologise. Instead, he claimed he is misunderstood and attempted to twist his explanation. He has no clear policy about education. Wrong guy for this job.
- He's not the right person for the job. He has no credibility to be an education minister.
- The future of Malaysia is at stake if we don’t get a man of vision for this important position.
- Malaysia needs an education minister who can improve the standard of education to international level, not a closet Islamist who seems to be more interested in creating an "Oxford for Islamic Studies" in Malaysia.
- He is acting like an extremist, only looking into matters concerning one race and one religion. We need a minister for all races and religions.
- Sarawak is a model of tolerance and harmony. Don’t propagate a failed doctrine that has caused disunity in Malaya to our shores.
- His focus is not targeting the priority, but focusing on minor and unimportant things. Make no revolution in his ministry, very incompetent. He shouldn't be a minister, he should quit.
- He has certainly stepped on the raw nerves of the peoples in the two Borneo states.
- There are other capable people around. No time to waste before he brings down the whole Pakatan Harapan government.
- Malaysia must not have a religious fundamentalist in charge of education. Schools are not and must never be “medan dakwah”!
- Freedom of learning has been manipulated by this minister.
- Let's return national schools to its glory days by minimising the impact of religion in schools.
- He is totally incompetent. He can be good academically but he is not an educator.
- We want quality education and not some crap issues about black shoes and what not!
- National schools should be secular. Religious schools should be religious.
- The present system is both biased and not futuristic.
- The people deserve much better.
I believe those are familiar grouses against Maszlee both as a person and a minister. The ability to recognise one’s capability and suitability in a job is clearly not an attribute in Maszlee. Apparently, he is a poor judge of his own self.
He has been seriously ticked off from all quarters for the most part of his nine-month tenure in the Education Ministry and he still clings on to the job unashamedly as if he is indispensable.
The final straw
I’m not sorry for being harshly critical of Maszlee here for I honestly feel that he is a personality who is unable to dissect genuine feedback that had gone his way over the past months. If feedback does not work, perhaps criticisms will.
For months, there has been a long list of Maszlee’s decisions and actions which many had faulted him, and some with good reasons.
But I kept quiet finding them still tolerable. Black shoes and socks are still okay; even black inner garment for students, if black is Maszlee’s favourite colour, is still tolerable.
The final straw was his “medan dakwah” statement which I and many of my fellow Sarawakians took great exception to. It also provoked responses from Muslim leaders in Sarawak, including state minister Abdul Karim Hamzah and former federal minister Nancy Shukri.
Both described Maszlee’s statement as highly insensitive and offensive, especially to non-Muslims.
Academic and Malaysiakini columnist Azly Rahman explained it best when he wrote that “a school is not a medan dakwah (a platform for preaching) and "dakwah" is not a neutral word”.
“It is a theocratically-charged term. One who studies linguistics knows the nature of language and social construction of reality. A school as medan dakwah is a madrassah. Not a public school wherein "child-centred philosophy celebrating diversity” reigns,” he added.
Then, there was a recent recording of a retired principal, V Chakaravathy, ranting at Maszlee in a dialogue session in Subang Jaya. One of Chakaravathy’s potshots at the minister was on the topic of how today’s children are experiencing a slow but sure death of creativity and problem-solving.
I wish that Mahathir would just take over the education portfolio himself, never mind the election pledge (he had gone back on some of them anyway), for whatever is left of his time as the prime minister.
The writing is clear on the wall. Maszlee Malik is not fit for the job. He must go.
FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at [email protected].
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.