PARTI Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) raised brows last week when it announced that if Pakatan Rakyat (PR) were to form a government, it would abolish the national higher education fund (PTPTN). The PTPTN was formed in 1997 with the objective of providing loans to students unable to afford fees in local higher education institutions. The larger argument of this proposal is to channel PTPTN funds more effectively to ensure more Malaysians can access education, itself a policy debate that surely must be taking place today.
Public focus, unfortunately, has somewhat shifted away from the issue of higher education itself, following PR leader Anwar Ibrahim’s suggestion that outstanding PTPTN loans of an estimated RM43 billion be written off with Petronas funds. The government however contends that doing so would “squeeze Petronas dry” and kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
This is certainly an interesting development, since it brings the discussion to a different level. Have Petronas funds been effectively used anyway, for all these years? How, indeed, is our government making use of the country’s oil and gas revenues? Are they being responsibly managed? What kind of governance and accountability are we assured in the process of managing such a tremendous amount of wealth, contributed by our natural resources?
Malaysia is classified as a resource-dependent nation, since about 40% of our national revenues comes from oil and gas. I have previously written in this column about the dangers of oil dependency and the need for better resource management (“The paradox of plenty”, Nov 25, 2011). In this piece, the focus will be on oversight of the oil and gas sector in Malaysia, and whether there is a sufficient institutional framework to support transparency and accountability of the funds involved.