May 18, 2019.
Recollections & Reflections – A commentary by Aziz Hassan
IT’S mind-boggling, this dire financial situation the National Higher Education Fund Corporation or widely known by its Malay acronym PTPTN has been facing for the best part of its 22-year existence when the crux of the matter is so elementary.
In any society or religion, the basic teaching is the same – you always pay back what you borrow when you can afford it, even amongst siblings and relatives, and that’s what my late father always reminded his children.
Student loan debts are not a new phenomenon; neither are they confined to the poor countries of the Third World. Of the many countries that have to deal with this issue, Malaysia is up there with the worst of the lot and this was mentioned in the research findings by a team from the Penang Institute that were released in December 2016. All the details one needs to know are there, thereby saving time and effort for anyone trying to look for new ways to resolve this problem because there are simply no new ways. Put your foot down and be strict with defaulters or Malaysia will be hearing this problem over and over, regardless which party rules the country.
In campaigning to unseat the Barisan Nasional government last year, the Pakatan Harapan coalition made the kind of promises that were sure to entice the young – the millenials – to its side and results from the elections suggested this to be a success. Having won, Pakatan then realised that it could not continue with the freebies after all and with it a continuing struggle to deal with an issue it knows will cost the coalition votes the next time around.
Read again the many reactions in the last couple of days after PTPTN suggested that re-imposing a travel ban may do the trick and you begin to have an understanding of what populist politics is all about.
PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the man who could be Malaysia’s next prime minister, Education Minister Dr. Maszlee Malik, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Rahman and Penang state executive councillor Dr. Afif Bahardin all gave their two cents worth – and that is to object to that suggestion. And oh ya, a student activist too had something to say.
The main arguments against are that many of the kids who owe PTPTN either do not have a job or those who do work do not earn enough to allow them to repay their loans but that’s missing the point.
No one is asking the unemployed to start repaying the loans
No one is asking the unemployed to repay while those not earning enough, whatever that amount is, will have to pay but only at a small percentage of their salary.
My view is that the RM4,000 per month salary ceiling decided by the government for borrowers to start paying is quite high and this is based on chats with those from the lower income bracket in Kuala Lumpur. Rather, even RM3,000 is a decent amount for a single person to live quite comfortably, unless you are a regular smoker and also the type to ditch your old smartphone each time the latest model is on the market, which is something not lost on foreign students studying in our universities, something they find quite amusing actually. And not to forget girls who think nothing of paying RM400 or RM500 for a scarf from a local designer boutique just to wrap around their head.
What sounds like a big joke and is so unnecessary is PTPTN’s decision to engage in public discussions to find ideas on how best to get defaulters to pay. The questionnaire would have been something like this: “Do you think the travel ban should be reimposed on defaulters?” Answer: “No; pity the guys….”; “For a person earning at least RM4,000 do you think a repayment of RM100 monthly is reasonable (although even RM150 should be affordable for someone who’s careful with his money)?” Answer: “How can… that’s too much. RM50 ok la…”
Someone should tell PTPTN chairman Wan Saiful Wan Jan that no one with common-sense would agree to self-destruct by agreeing with someone who wants to make life uncomfortable for him by preventing him from travelling overseas or by taking away so much from his salary each month. Given a choice no bloke would agree to this, Wan Saiful.
The Inland Revenue Board doesn’t ask for public opinion before asking Immigration to ban defaulters from leaving the country. It doesn’t even ask an employer before deciding how much an employee can afford to have the salary deducted each month. The same position is adopted by the Insolvency Department against bankrupts.
By the way although there’s a ceiling as to how much an employer can deduct an employee’s salary, this doesn’t apply to an IRB instruction, which was why a journalist sometime in the late 70s on a salary of around RM1,500 was left with only about RM15 for several months!
What is known is that while people with the restrictions imposed as per the stories above may grumble, at the end of the day they accept their fate or misfortune because they know it’s all their fault.
And here we have politicians in high places teaching young Malaysians all the wrong values.
If failure to honour election promises is a good enough reason to ask Wan Saiful to quit, PKR’s Afif would be best advised to tell this to the cabinet
PTPTN has said that more than two-thirds of defaulters began to pay up when the travel ban was imposed. Some may recall how Mara some years ago suddenly had business and study loan defaulters scrambling to pay something they had conveniently ignored for years when the agency advertised the list of defaulters in the newspapers.
Common sense should also tell us how a travel ban should be a concern to a defaulter who, if he or she is to be believed, doesn’t earn enough even to live decently? Aren’t travelling overseas only for those with money to spare?
But the best statement in support of the defaulters and thus critical of PTPTN must surely be the one from Afif, the PKR politician: “Wan Saiful should be reminded that the PTPTN issue was the rallying cry for Pakatan Youth in GE14, where we galvanised youths nation-wide for a new formula for PTPTN.
“If Wan Saiful is not able to deliver PH’s promise, he has to reconsider his position as the chairman.”
Please Afif, Wan Saiful is merely one Pribumi Bersatu politician and PTPTN only one of many agencies, small fries in a way. If failure to deliver on promises in the Pakatan manifesto is of such concern to you, it’s more meaningful to deliver this same message to the entire cabinet, and that includes the prime minister, for the more than one failure to honour the election promises.