More are Owing Than Paying

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

I was shocked upon learning that a total 410,500 borrowers owe the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) RM6.84 billion in loans. This was the opening line of an online news report I came across recently. Almost half a million students have yet to settle their “debt of gratitude” to the government for having seen them through their higher education.

The report further stated that of the amount, RM2.84 billion was from borrowers who had never paid a single sen to PTPTN since the programme was introduced in 1997. The remaining RM4.05 billion was from borrowers who are paying their dues but less than the agreed instalment amount.

These revelations, apparently, were made known during question time at the last parliamentary sitting.

If anything, this goes to show the state of our economy and, perhaps, the resolve of our youths when it comes to fulfilling an obligation. Granted that the education loans are from the government coffers and it is the government’s responsibility to provide education to its people, gratis or otherwise, but a debt is debt and paying whatever is owing is not something to be taken lightly.

Had the loan repayment been consistent, in other words, borrowers honouring their pledge to repay upon completion of their studies, PTPTN should have collected RM18.97 billion. However, only RM12.13 billion was collected as at September 30, 2017, according to a Ministry of Education source. The amount is pretty dismal. And, unless something drastic is done, the fate of other students, in dire need of funding to complete their tertiary education, hangs in a balance.

Here is another interesting piece of information. From the sum, RM6.55 billion was collected from 970,330 bumiputra borrowers while RM5.58 billion was from 519,913 non-bumiputra borrowers. This disparity in numbers is so apparent. Perhaps the non-bumiputra borrowers are more conscientious and trustworthy than their bumiputra counterparts, as figures do not lie. I shall leave that to conjecture, not wishing to ruffle any feathers.

In Budget 2018, the government is extending discounts for repayment of PTPTN loans till December 31, 2018. For full repayment, borrowers will receive a 20 per cent rebate on outstanding debt. A 10 per cent rebate for repayment of 50 per cent of outstanding loan and a 10 per cent rebate on settlement by salary deduction or scheduled direct debit.

Incidentally, the repayment period has now been extended to 12 months from the current six months, from completion of study.

For the uninitiated, PTPTN loans are meant for students pursuing tertiary education at a recognised institution of higher learning in the country. The programme, introduced in 1997 has benefitted thousands, especially those who could not get study loans from the Public Service Department (JPA), Mara and other agencies as the criteria are rather stringent. Borrowers who performed well in their studies, like getting first-class honours in the selected degree courses, will have their loans waived. The loans will be considered as a scholarship, instead. This is applicable to JPA and Mara loans too.

But getting a waiver is not as simple as is stated in the application papers. “You’ve to cross mountains and lakes to get it” said a former University Malaya student. She performed pretty well in her degree course and had obtained first-class honours and, by convention, was entitled for a waiver.  But that was where her problem started. She thought PTPTN keeps track of its borrowers’ performances, as that is what is expected out of them. However, upon checking she was told to fill forms and make a separate application. “It’s pointless to deal with the state branch as the staff are seldom sympathetic,” she lamented.

Having been forewarned of this anomaly she took her problem to the head office at Jalan Yap Kwan Seng in Kuala Lumpur. After a few trips to the federal capital she got the much-anticipated exemption. Nonetheless, she is still short of a couple of refunds, instalments paid while waiting for the waiver.

Well, that is how government departments function. I had similar problems too when settling my housing loan upon retirement from military service. I had to make several trips to the Housing Loan Department in Kuala Lumpur to settle the matter. To add salt to injury, they mailed my overpaid instalments to my old house in Kuala Lumpur. The cheque got lost and I had to apply all over again. That is efficiency for you.

While debating Perak Budget 2018 on Friday, November 24, the state legislative assembly’s attention shifted to the proposed airport at Bota and Lambor Kanan in Perak Tengah. The new airport will straddle a 4169-hectare site at the Cempaka Sari Industrial Gate. The Transport Ministry has approved the application said Dato’ Dr Mah Hang Soon, BN representative for Chenderiang. The project will be undertaken by a private entity named Malaysian Resources Sdn Bhd. Whether the company has the capacity to build the airport is another question. However, the burning question on Perakeans’ lips is whether the state requires a new airport when the existing one is under-utilised. Although the debate has been raging for some time, nothing has yet materialised. Hopefully, it is not another dry run.

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