Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The truth about the Universiti Malaya land scam


Thursday, 28 February 2008 ( arkib)

When Amin Jalaludin, UM’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor cum ENT surgeon turned developer announced on behalf of his boss, Rafiah Salim, lawyer turned banker cum UN Human Resources Manager cum Vice-Chancellor and currently jet-setting businesswoman, the proposal by the Universiti of Malaya’s governing board to let a suspicious private entity called PPC-MINT-GLOMAC develop 27 acres of irreplaceable campus land on February 9, 2008, Malaysians knew that it had all the makings of a major scam.

Amin announced that the successful completion of the development project is expected to provide UM with a minimum income of RM312 million or the land value of RM200 million plus a share of the developer's profit, whichever is higher.

All this money would presumably help the UM financially in its faltering attempts to redress its declining academic and research standards. One would truly love to buy UM’s efforts to create a giant multi-billion dollar endowment fund similar to that of Harvard or Yale until one realizes that the person who is announcing the deal is not a businessman but is a medical doctor, spent most of his life giving tutorials and power point presentations and works for a VC with a very shady banking past in tandem with the Prime Minister’s speech writer cum proxy, Anuar Zaini who has now made a name for himself as an underhanded lackey of the Prime Minister who uses governmental positions to rip off our institutions and tax payers money to fill up the coffers of UMNO and their personal Swiss accounts.

Since when did our academics decide to go into business? If their depressing role in helping plunge our University standards are anything to go by, we would then have to expect that these same greenhorns in business will in all likelihood sell off the University’s assets and realise later that they have lost not only their assets but will then have to apply for a bail-out using tax payers money or file for bankruptcy. But Rafiah, Amin, Anuar Zaini and all those other Emeritus Professors wouldn’t be sticking around to attend creditor’s meetings then would they? They would have gracefully retired to their homes in Australia leaving yet another institution in debt and Malaysians a lot poorer. Maybe Idris Jala would be made available to the University Malaya then, but it may be too late as, unlike MAS, there may be no more assets to sell for him to soup up the books and bring it back to black in a jiffy.

This country never learns. That little piece of land was provided for the University so that they produce the best brains that will help develop this country. The land was not meant to grow palm oil plantations, mine tin, grow skyscrapers or gated communities. But we cannot expect more from the likes of the University’s current administrators if past blunders are anything to go by.

Despite adequate land, the UM entered into a sweetheart deal to purchase the 25 storey Telekom Office building at Lembah Pantai for a consideration of RM70 million in April 2006. Whether Rafiah truly purchased it in good faith for its postgraduates or was told to utilise UM development money at the behest of Anuar Zaini is contentious. But why would they want to buy a building located right outside their gates when they seem to have abundant “prime” land right in the middle of KL and PJ inside the campus. A first-class postgraduate building on campus grounds would, you have thought, been more relevant than a clubhouse.

But there you are, welcome to the warped up thinking of Universiti Malaya’s top but spineless brass. For a university that cannot supply its students with enough water and provides patchy broadband connections when you are located right smack in the middle of the Klang Valley surrounded by world class infrastructure only shows that what requires selling is not the university’s land but whole sale eradication of the entire Universiti Malaya board of directors and its top administrative staff. Which makes you wonder if the Sultan of Perak is purview to these going ons?

Perhaps Universiti Malaya should first focus on giving students a first-rate education by having equitable policies in the intake of both students and lecturers. This simple measure may do a world of good in raising its dismal rankings. It should also perhaps focus on reducing wastage especially at its medical campus where reportedly its new tower block operates without a CF allegedly as a result of shoddy construction work sourced out to crony companies. It should perhaps also explain why it’s profitable and income generating private wing is to be remotely located at a new logistically improper location by its main gates far away from the rest of its clinical services at its main tower. The completed 25 million ringgit building remains underutilised till this day and appears to be degenerating into a white elephant. And maybe it would also be a good time to explain its foray into a botched 50 million ringgit Hospital Information deal all courtesy of the tax payer.

But Universiti Malaya wouldn’t be the first university that would have goofed up valuable public money. In 1995, two lecturers from its economic planning department at UiTM put up a paper about buying up PKNS’s underutilized condominiums at Section 7 Shah Alam. The idea was to convert it to a hotel resort to rival other similar resorts in the Klang Valley and make money while helping train students. The University authorities bought the story but didn’t have the money. No worries. EPF apparently lent RM55 million to buy up the property and refurbish it to resort status in the happening city of Shah Alam. In September 1997, the Intekma Resort & Convention Center opened to the public but response has been less then enthusiastic. It currently serves to train students and houses mainly university staff who are there for conferences. No one really knows if EPF got its money back.

In December 2002, UiTM formed its fledgling Medical Faculty and appointed a research based professor from UKM to run it. It’s students had no proper teaching hospital and this premier Bumiputra university had to virtually beg the Ministry of Health to use Selayang Hospital. The MOH allowed the usage of Selayang, albeit grudgingly. Till this day both the university’s local and expatriate lecturers have limited access to patients, clinics or operating theaters. No prizes for guessing how UiTM medical students are going to turn out as doctors. But UiTM has access to funds, and lots of it. They even have the political muscle. The Agong is their Chancellor. They could have bought off Selayang Hospital, Sungai Buloh Hospital or even both of them.

But that would not be UiTM. A grandiose money making scheme had to be connived for the benefit of all and sundry in typical Malaysia incorporated style. The Dean of the Medical Faculty, who entrenched himself by employing up to 70% expatriate lecturers, all of whom would positively appraise him annually so that there would be no complications when their contracts came up for renewal, proposed not one but twin medical cities to be located and built on the outskirts of Shah Alam by raising funds through PFI’s backed by PNB’s Golden Hope and more ominously pilgrim’s money at Tabung Haji.

This elaborate 1.2billion ringgit deal had apparently the approval of none other then the mother of all penghulus, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Scant attention was paid to how in God’s name cash flows are going to be matched through Malaysian patients used to paying RM1 for consultations at hospitals. Needless to say, the taxpayer will be called in to perform their solemn duty and baileth yet another cocked up project if this plot saw the light of day.

Our universities will need to stand on their own feet as surely as the sun rises the next day. The days of splurging are nearing an end as the country’s resources run out. But to ask a chemistry professor who has never run a corporation or even managed the local 7/11 to hop off his chair and start getting the billions to role into the university’s coffers would be a risky financial gamble. For that you need a highly experienced CEO and CFO who have been battle hardened in the private sector. You need to pay these guys well and monitor their performances like a hawk. Maybe all public universities who want to see money ought to have stints at HELP, INTI or Lim Kok Wing universities. But you certainly cannot use the same cooks who brought the university to their academic knees to go on another jaunt that requires razor sharp business acumen. To do so would be to invite a financial calamity to our already shaky public universities.

So who indeed will save Universiti Malaya? When the Tunku was down and out after 1969, students and student leaders went out to town running him down for Malaysia’s various ills including the loss of Singapore. Today, we have in our midst government sponsored nameless corporations who are threatening to swallow whole our universities and their heritage but yet not a whimper. What has happened to its students, its alumni and its famous sons and daughters this proud university once gave a future? Will they come back to save it or will they be part of the conspiracy to get a piece of its real estate?


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