On Tuesday, 1 November, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found the Education Ministry "guilty of contract mismanagement" in their multi-billion-ringgit 1BestariNet project
The 1BestariNet is a 15-year project worth RM4.47 billion under the Ministry of Education (MoE), introduced by Muhyiddin Yassin, the former deputy prime minister.
The project was initiated in March 2011 with an aim to cover 10,000 government schools nationwide and was supposed to provide 4G broadband connectivity and virtual learning environment (VLE) to the schools.
However, in the period of 30 months where the Ministry of Finance approved RM663 million, the project had come under fire from both the Attorney-General and PAC for having failed to deliver on time.
In 2015, the AG's Report found that the software and equipment were used by just 1% of students in the participating schools, reported The Malay Mail Online.
Reportedly, the PAC has found that the 1BestariNet project did not go through a "value management process" — a mandatory process for projects worth RM50 million and above to go through
According to a circular from the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) dated 29 December 2009, projects worth RM50 million and above must go through a value management lab (VML) assessment. Something which the 1BestariNet project did not go through.
While officers from the Education Ministry's information management division claimed they were unaware of the EPU circular, and as such did not implement VML as required, the PAC called the reasoning by the Education Ministry an "unacceptable excuse".
"The PAC can't accept the excuse given by the Education Ministry regarding its lack of awareness regarding the VML circular," the committee said.
According to the PAC, the 1BestariNet project is plagued with suspicious expenses and the contracts weren't properly managed
The PAC, which is led by Rompin MP Datuk Hasan Arifin, would be visiting all schools that are involved in the 1BestariNet project in both cities and rural areas.
In light of which, the PAC has recommended a follow-up audit on the 1BestariNet.
"The PAC has decided that the Audit Department conduct a thorough follow-up audit regarding whether the matters raised by the department (previously) had been rectified because many of the government expenses (on 1BestariNet) is questionable," the committee wrote in its report on 1BestariNet.
"The PAC also wants the Auditor-General’s Department to carry out a study on the effectiveness in implementing the 1BestariNet project."
The project was awarded to YTL Communications via an open tender to build the 1BestariNet Receiver Integrated System (1BRIS) telecommunication towers at 3,203 schools throughout the country
However, the controversial thing about these towers is that they provide wireless Internet services not only to the schools but also to surrounding areas.
There was concern that the towers would be used for YTL's YES 4G broadband services, thus constituting commercial network expansion at taxpayer's expense.
While its commercial use was denied by Education Ministry in the PAC inquests, YTL themselves have admitted that use of towers is not confined to school premises.
While the JPPH recommended the Education Ministry to charge YTL a monthly rental of RM1,200 for each 1BRIS site, the Education Ministry decided on an mere RM1,000 annual rental instead
As per JPPH's (Valuation and Property Services Department) recommendation, YTL should have been charged a monthly rental of RM1,200.
But the Education Ministry ONLY charged YTL RM1,000 for an entire year.
According to MP of Bukit Bendera and DAP lawmaker Zairil Khir Johari, the whole thing was a "bureaucratic fiasco"
In a post published on the FMT, Zairil Khir points out how:
Based on JPPH's initial recommendation of RM1,200 per month per site, it would amount to RM46.12 million a year for all 3,203 sites.
However, by reducing the rental rate to RM1,000 a year for each site, it would result in YTL only having to pay RM3.20 million a year, equating to a loss of revenue of RM42.92 million a year for the Ministry of Education.
And now the rental charge has been further reduced.
It is now only RM120 a year per site, amounting to RM384,360 a year. The difference between this and JPPH's recommendation is a whopping RM45.73 million.
You can read the DAP lawmaker's full piece on FMT here.
Meanwhile, the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) has described the 1BestariNet project as "an abject failure"
NUTP President Kamarozaman Abd Razak has claimed that instead of helping it has often resulted in teachers and schools forking out more money for Internet connections, with only a handful of students benefitting from using the Internet service.
"If there were 10 students, only half could use the programme. It was a waste when we had 1BestariNet but teachers could not use it," Kamarozaman told FMT.