The national conference was represented by all the Barisan Alternative parties, namely Parti Keadilan Nasional, PAS, PRM and DAP as well as mother education bodies and civic organisations like Dong Jiao Zhong and Suqiu. What was most unfortunate was the absence of participation from Barisan Nasional parties although invitations were extended to the MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, Gerakan President Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and the SUPP Deputy President, Datuk Law Hieng Ding in their capacity as senior Ministers of the Cabinet which must first approve the Eighth Malaysia Plan before it is presented to Parliament for debate and adoption next month.
It is most regrettable that the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP national leaderships could give full support to the UMNO-initiated "Malay unity" talks with PAS to discuss communal issues, but is not prepared to set aside political differences to take part in a national conference with political parties in the Opposition as well as mother-tongue educational bodies and civic organisations to discuss national issues affecting all Malaysians.
MCA, Gerakan and SUPP's political support for UMNO-initiated "Malay unity" talks and refusal to set aside political and party differences to take part in a national conference on "New Deal for Mother-tongue Education in Eighth Malaysia Plan" have put these Barisan Nasional component parties in a very bad light when compared with PAS' response to UMNO's proposal for "Malay unity" talks.
PAS has countered by saying that it would only be interested in the talks with UMNO if it is about national unity as there is no problem with Malay unity but merely the shift of Malay political support from UMNO to the Barisan Alternative.
In the new politics that the DAP and Barisan Alternative want to forge in Malaysia in the new millennium, all Malaysians must be prepared to rise above race, religion and even political beliefs to come together to reach a national consensus to deal with the great and burning issues confronting the nation, and this is why the DAP and the Barisan Alternative are prepared to put aside our differences with the MCA, Gerakan, the SUPP and the Barisan Nasional to discuss a "New Deal For Mother-Tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan" or on pressing national issues like corruption, police brutality, crisis of confidence in the judiciary, economic mismanagement like the MAS and LRT bail-outs, etc.
In fact, in early January, the Barisan Alternative formally invited
the Barisan Nasional parties to talks to discuss the grave national issues
confronting the country, but there was no response from UMNO and the other
BN component parties indicating that the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP were
clearly unable or not allowed to respond on their own without any "green
Liong Sik's most famous political saying is that "a fish rots from the head", which seems to best describe the MCA national leadership.
Otherwise, it is impossible to understand the MCA role whether on the Damansara school controversy, the proper and rightful place of mother-tongue education in multi-racial and multi-lingual Malaysia, government accountability and transparency or the great issues of democracy and human rights.
Take the controversy over the relocation or retention of the SJK © Damansara. Up to now, neither Liong Sik nor the MCA Deputy Education Minister, Datuk Hon Choon Kim has been able to give one good reason why the 70-year-old 25-classroom original school could not be retained and re-opened as a community school in addition to the building of a new primary school in Tropicana, Petaling in eight months - especially as the people in Petaling Jaya suffer from an acute shortage of Chinese primary schools in the past four decades.
At present, there are only 14 Chinese primary schools in the Petaling
district although the total Chinese primary school enrolment is more than
25,000. At least six of them having an enrolment of over 2,000 students
while nine schools operate a two-shift school session. There is a pressing
need not just for a new Chinese primary school, but a powerful case for
urgent building of a dozen Chinese primary schools in Petaling so that pupils do not have to get up at 5 am and get home from school some 12 hours later at 4 or 5 pm.
There are some 70,000 non-Chinese students in the Chinese primary schools in the country, which should have meant the building of some 120 new Chinese primary schools just to cater to this demand - but Chinese primary school enrolment have doubled from 310,000 students in 1957 to over 620,000 students in 2,000, yet the number of Chinese primary schools in the past 43 years has seen a decline of 49 schools!
I am still flabbergasted as to why Liong Sik and the MCA Ministers are so deadset against the building of new Chinese primary schools to meet the needs of ever increasing enrolment - except for Liong Sik's theory of "a fish rots from the head"!
If Liong Sik and the other MCA Ministers are prepared to be humble enough
to admit that they had made a mistake in their handling
of the Damansara school issue and be democratic enough to listen
to the popular wishes of the people for the retention and re-opening of
the original school in addition to the building of a new primary school
in Tropicana, Petaling, the
whole controversy would be ended instantly.
This is because the MCA Ministers are the sole impediment to the solution of the Damansara school controversy by allowing the retention and re-opening of the original Damansara school.
The Gerakan leaders have been giving the impression that the Gerakan President, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik is prepared to support a change of Cabinet decision to allow the re-opening of the original Damansara school in addition to the building of the new Chinese primary school.
There does not appear to be a problem in getting the support of the MIC President, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu for a change of the Cabinet decision on the Damansara school controversy.
Even the UMNO Ministers should not be a problem, for it is inconceivable that the UMNO Ministers would object when all the MCA Ministers as well as those from other component parties of the Barisan Nasional support the re-opening of the original Damansara school.
Or let us take the case of what former MCA Minister and now MCA Central Education Bureau chief, Datuk Dr. Ting Chew Peh had described as the "historic breakthrough for the future of Chinese education" in Malaysia in the Cabinet meeting of 21st February 2001.
The next day after the Cabinet meeting, almost all the Chinese newspapers gave front-page headline treatment to the "news" from an unnamed MCA Minister that the Cabinet had made a "historic breakthrough for the future of Chinese education" where the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad directed the Education Ministry to implement as soon possible the 1999 general election promise to build four new Chinese primary schools and relocate 13 Chinese primary schools, and most important of all, that new Chinese primary schools should be built according to need under the Eighth Malaysia Plan.
But after a two-day "wonder", nobody has again talked about the "historic breakthrough for the future of Chinese education" where new Chinese primary schools would henceforth be built according to need - raising the question whether this is a "phantom breakthrough" by a MCA "phantom Minister"!
I marvel as to how the MCA Ministers could regard the building of four new Chinese primary school as a great achievement, when we should demand that under the Eighth Malaysia Plan from 2001-2005, some 250 new Chinese primary schools should be built to make up for the short-fall in construction of new Chinese primary schools in the past five decades.
What is so great about fulfilling the 1999 general election pledge to build four new Chinese primary schools when according to the Finance Minister, Tun Daim Zainuddin in his 2001 budget speech in Parliament last October, 167 primary schools, 120 secondary schools and 42 new hostels would be ready this year. The 2000 Budget planned for the completion of 371 new schools and 463 new school extensions while under the 1999 Budget, a total of 183 new primary and secondary schools were opened.
It is most scandalous that Liong Sik and Hon want to give the impression that it would be a great achievement for the MCA to be able to get the government to build four new Chinese primary schools to fulfil the 1999 general election pledge, when in the three years from 1999 to 2001, 841 new primary and secondary schools are opened.
The proposal that under the New Deal for Mother-tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan, 250 new Chinese primary schools should be built in the next five years is therefore not an extreme or excessive demand.
The call for a New Deal for Mother-Tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan must be a nation-wide call of all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or political beliefs.
As far as Chinese mother-tongue education is concerned, the New Deal should incorporate five important features, viz: