Abdul Karim disappointed with Putrajaya’s U-turn on dilapidated schools issue

Abdul Karim speaking to reporters.

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By Geryl Ogilvy

KUCHING, April 9: The state government questions Putrajaya’s sincerity in resolving the dilapidated schools’ issue in Sarawak, after its RM1 billion federal loan contra formula was rejected.

Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah expressed disappointment on the U-turn by the Pakatan Harapan-led federal government.

He described the move as a political ploy on Pakatan’s part not to give credit to the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS)-led state government, especially since the next state election is due in 2021.

Minister for Education, Science and Technological Research Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Jawong yesterday revealed that the federal government had rejected the loan contra formula, insisting that the RM1 billion loan payment be taken solely as an ‘advance payment’ to debts owed by the state.

“They (Putrajaya) kept on saying that there are not enough funds to repair schools in Sarawak and that is why the state government offered its own money to sort this problem.

“The RM1 billion that we proposed is part of our annual progress payment that would be deducted from the state government’s debt with Putrajaya.

“At first, they agreed to the proposal but now they seemed to have made a U-turn. I question their sincerity in sorting out this dilapidated schools issue. Too much flip-flopping. I’m disappointed,” Abdul Karim told reporters after launching the 2019 Kuching Waterfront Jazz Festival here today.

He reminded those present that there were more than 1,000 schools in Sarawak that are considered as dilapidated, with over 400 in critical condition. While the issue must be addressed by both state and federal governments, education matters are under the purview of Putrajaya.

“We have prepared the money to fix dilapidated schools, especially in the rural areas. We are the ones who come up with the money. It is only fair that we set our condition.

“We will fund the repairs of our schools in return for deduction in the state government’s debt. Why should that money be used to repair schools in other states?” he continued.

When asked on the impact of charging a departure levy for locals who travel out of the country, Abdul Karim said the state government would accept the decision if the Departure Levy Bill 2019 is passed in Parliament.

The Bill, tabled by Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah for its first reading yesterday (April 8), seeks the implementation of a new levy on any person leaving Malaysia.

While the amount of the proposed levy was not mentioned in the Bill, in Budget 2019, the government had proposed a departure levy of RM20 for those departing for Asean countries and RM40 for non-Asean countries.

“Introduction of such (travel) tax is normal (compared to other countries). Although the move will cause some unease among locals at first, the people will get used to it after a while.

“On the state government’s part, we accept the decision of the exit tax if it is to be implemented. There is nothing much that we can do as it would be federal policy,” he explained.

On a personal note, Abdul Karim admitted that no one wanted to be taxed, but if the move is something that can generate income for the government, which could be used to further improve infrastructure, the state accepts the decision. — DayakDaily