KUALA LUMPUR — November 8, 2018: They were at the forefront of Malaysia’s ambitious abolish-student-loans movement and had for years presented a number of blueprints to convince the public that it could be done — until they said the opposite this year.
And the reason why Pakatan Harapan leaders said they are unable to unburden borrowers of the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) continues to shift, like how the narrative was changed to a mere deferment instead of an abolition.
At first, the country’s revised national debt, said to be more than RM1 trillion, was touted by Pakatan as the reason for the delay in implementing its promised repayment deferment for those earning below RM4,000 a month.
In the latest round of the blame game, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng pointed his finger to controversial businessman Jho Low, who Lim claimed was the cause of Pakatan’s inability to fulfill the promise.
“What can we do right now? If Jho Low had not taken away RM50 billion, maybe we could have done it,” said Lim at an event four days ago.
Netizens however were not having it.
“Stop blaming others. Please do as promised. Careful now, the people are watching you,” warned Shanmuganathan Gunasekaran on Facebook.
There were also those who alluded how Jho Low has now become the preferred scapegoat for Pakatan leaders in justifying their poor governance.
“It seems to me that the government needs Jho Low to still be out there so that it can have an excuse for its poor performance,” wrote Michael Ketit.
In a commentary published by Utusan yesterday, former PTPTN chairman Datuk Dr. Shamsul Anuar Nasarah called Lim’s finger pointing antics as incoherent and hilarious, given how the fund’s source of income has got nothing to do with the billions Low was said to have siphoned.
“PTPTN gets it funding from financial institutions, returns from government guaranteed Sukuk bonds and borrowers repayments. It no longer obtains government grants since 2003 and has only received a total of RM5.2 billion grants since inception. Therefore, it is illogical to blame Jho Low. Do you (Lim) enjoy lying?,” wrote Shamsul.
Repayment of PTPTN loans has always been a contentious issue in Malaysia. The fund has given out RM43 billion to 1.9 million students and has until today accumulated RM36 billion of unpaid loans.
Last year, the fund achieved its biggest repayment collection to date, raking in a total of RM3.4 billion, a feat in which former education minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh alluded will unlikely happen due to Pakatan’s inefficient PTPTN-related policies.
These policies include the yet-to-be implemented loan deferment and the government’s decision to delist all 429,945 PTPTN defaulters from the Immigration Department’s blacklist.
It was also disclosed last month that repayment rate in January had dropped, collecting only RM297 million compared to the RM351 million for the same month last year.
Similar to Lim’s reasoning, Deputy Education Minister, Teo Nie Ching had blamed Datuk Seri Najib Razak for the drop, insisting that it was partly due to the former prime minister’s decision to extend the repayment grace period from six to 12 months, which came into effect in November last year.
Teo’s political ally who now chairs PTPTN, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, had on June 27 admitted that the drop happened shortly after Pakatan released its manifesto.
In fact, PTPTN deputy chief executive Mastura Mohd Khalid also said that borrowers took on a wait-and-see attitude when Pakatan announced its manifesto, adding that the drop will continue once the coalition’s pledges are implemented.