By Mohsin Abdullah
Let's be honest! The Unified Examination Certificate issue is not about to go away anytime soon. That is reason enough for me to write about it. Yet again.
I'll start by stating the obvious. There's always been a racial connotation to the UEC issue.
It is seen by many Malays (granted not all) as something against the national education policy. And people who are fighting for the UEC's recognition are labelled "kurang ajar".
And who are the people championing the UEC? The Chinese community naturally. Educationists and others, but Chinese nevertheless.
Also, the issue has always been political. That's how it is made out to be anyway.
To score political points, both sides of the divide are playing the racial card. Anything perceived as "wrong" or politically not correct can be messy for the politicians concerned. And "messy" is a mild word to use.
So, when Huazong or the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia was reported to have claimed last month that prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had told them he "personally hopes that the government will one day recognize the UEC", it not only raised many an eyebrow but resulted it polemic, something not unexpected though.
Strangely the Huazong statement was allowed to be kept alive, so to speak, for days before the Prime Minister's Office finally issued a media statement denying Muhyiddin had said the government would recognize the UEC.
The PMO statement went on to elaborate what the PM had said and what he meant when he met representatives of Huazong, which I do not intend to repeat here as many would have read the clarification by now.
Unsurprisingly, in an immediate response, Huazong also issued its statement to clarify it had not quoted the PM as saying the government intended to recognize the UEC.
However, even before the PMO and Huazong had issued their respective press releases, a Bersatu man took it upon himself to deny the Huazong statement, telling all and sundry what he thought Muhyiddin, who incidently is his party president, had "actually" said.
According to Bersatu youth education spokesperson Mohd Ashraf Mustaqim, a posting in the PM's official Facebook page said the meeting with Huazong showed "discussions were comprehensive on the development of the Chinese community".
"It is essential for Muhyiddin as prime minister to listen and open accommodation to achieve national integration and it is not an error," he was quoted saying by MalaysiaKini in a July 18 report. I'll leave it there although there are a lot more he had said.
Rewind to a report I wrote for The Edge back in October 2019. It was written at a time when the Sabah state government as well as Melaka had recognized the UEC. That was the situation then although there were no details.
Hence my article had asked if Putrajaya would follow suit. Bear in mind this was during the reign of Pakatan Harapan at federal level as well as in Melaka while the state government in Sabah was a Pakatan Harapan ally.
The government then had, via the education ministry, formed a task force to gather feedback, relevant information and make recommendations on the UEC issue. The task force was chaired by author and cultural activist Eddin Khoo.
When I spoke to Khoo back then, the task force had interviewed 72 individuals or groups comprising all stakeholders. The task force was then supposed to meet parliamentarians for their views. That was scheduled for 16 October 2019.
"It is a complex issue and an elaborate process. When everything is in place, only then will the final report be submitted to the government," Khoo had told me at that time.
Now the report (with recommendation) is ready. A report of 10,000 words. But, there has been a change of government. And then there's the COVID-19 pandemic which held back things.
Khoo tells me he is awaiting word from the current government to submit the report to the two education ministers.
The UEC has been a controversial issue for close to four decades, and for Khoo, "it must be put in context once and for all so that people can understand it for what it actually is."
And when he hands over the report to the government, Khoo hopes it will be made public and that the government can discuss and debate it openly.
Yes, so do I. Making the report public is very important lest it ends up in a shelf gathering dust or worse ends up in the waste paper basket. Then not only would the hard work of the task force go to waste, but we as a nation will be stuck with the issue forever. God forbid!
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)