“A Senior Physician” in a letter to Malaysia Today concerning Assunta Hospital, blames church leaders for allowing mission schools to have deteriorated under government hands. He is too harsh on the church. The source of the deterioration lies in the rapacious, dishonest and corrupt politicians that have been elected to power for 40 years, and an electorate willing to put their trust in men and women of no honour.
In his letter, he said:
… the Bishop and the Catholic mission may not know anything about this state of affairs. They usually leave it to the trustees while they concentrate on getting donations for the hospital. Church leaders and the clergy live a life of prayer and a belief that God will take care of their problems.
This may explain what happened to the Catholic schools. They used to be premier schools for the whole country. It was not only a source of pride to the Catholic mission, it could have been a method to influence the minds of future leaders of the country. Unfortunately the church never moved with the times and the political changes that swept across the country. Now schools such as SFI, SJI and SXI are relics of a grand past and lie almost forgotten and decaying where they once stood.
That is hardly the case. Mission schools were incorporated into the Malaysian educational system after much debate. The essence of the matter at that time (in the 1960s) was, in my recollection, that the church agreed after much discussion to allow the schools to become sekolah jenis kebangsaan — but retaining ownership and not transferring the land and the buildings to the government — in order to receive government financial support.
The open question was then whether the Brothers and Sisters who taught and administered the mission schools would follow along and become absorbed into the teaching service, so that they could continue to teach and be in charge of the administration of the schools.
It was eventually decided that the Brothers and the Sister would not join the education service, but would remain on the Board of Governors of the schools and thus supervise the administration of the schools this way. One factor would have been to obviate any potential church-state conflict.
Over the years members of the La Salle Brothers and the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus have agonised over that decision, as their schools steadily decayed in standing, suffered abuse and desecration, and became political tools, notwithstanding that many Malaysian leaders and members of royal houses were themselves educated at mission schools of the 1950s-70s.
To my mind, the church relied on two factors in making the decision to let the government run their schools and to stay out of the education system:
• They trusted the honesty and goodwill of the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Raman, that the schools would be cared for, and that the government in all sincerity, merely wished to relieve the church of the financial burden
• They trusted in a system of government that seemed to be based on democratic principle and one that would honour promises made.
They were wrong to trust any one individual. Politicians come and go. They were naive to believe the succeeding politicians would honour the word of another.
It should have been possible to put trust in the system. Institutions of the system and the civil service that goes with them, remain while politicians come and go. They are designed to be a bulwark of the common citizen against the dishonest politician.
Alas, the church leaders could not have foreseen how dishonest and corrupt that the system, and that civil service, would also become, corrupted and turned by the dishonourable politician.
The lesson of the mission school debacle is not to elevate politicians into demi-gods, but to rebuild an honest system, with institutions based on principle and the law, and not on the word of one man. The rapacity of politicians — all politicians, of all colours once they achieve power — and the willingness of the electorate to fool themselves, is what corrupts a society and its institutions.
The chuch was sincere in trusting the Tunku. But church leaders were naive, if not downright stupid, to believe that those who succeeded the Tunku would be men of equal moral fibre, honesty and upstanding honour. What we got instead were cheap, no-class bums, who looked after themselves first and foremost.