JPA Sues Scholar RM500,000 For 'Absconding' Even Though He Returned To Work In Malaysia

"Instead of working out a solution, they would rather penalise me, someone who was just starting out in life, with half a million Ringgit," said the graduate, who is currently working in Singapore to pay his debts.

Cover image via EduSpiral Consultant Services & Aizuddin Saad/New Straits Times

Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, and Telegram for the latest stories and breaking news.

A Malaysian who was granted a scholarship by the Public Service Department (JPA) was sued for RM500,000 by the government body despite returning to Malaysia to work after graduating overseas

While discussing the issue of brain drain in Malaysia, and how local talents are underappreciated, a local journalist brought up the story of a friend on Twitter, who he thinks was mistakenly penalised half a million Ringgit by JPA over an allegedly broken scholarship bond.

Journalist Hadi Azmi, currently working as a correspondent for South China Morning Post, wrote about how his friend was awarded a scholarship to study in the US by JPA and, by the time he graduated, was offered a job by TalentCorp, a government agency that helps place talented Malaysians in top Malaysian companies.

The friend accepted the job and worked in Kuala Lumpur under TalentCorp, which has a joint initiative with JPA for JPA scholars, but was unexpectedly sent a letter by JPA a few years later suing him for RM500,000 for absconding from his contract because he failed to report to them.

Local journalist and South China Morning Post correspondent, Hadi Azmi.

Image via Hadi Azmi

Hadi said the government body had deemed his friend as "absconding" from his scholarship because they did not know he was working under TalentCorp in Malaysia the whole time

"Apparently, TalentCorp does not communicate with JPA... All the while he's at his office overlooking Dataran Merdeka, serving the country," he said.

Hadi added that his friend did try to correct the situation and prove that he was working under the JPA-TalentCorp initiative, believing he was serving the scholarship bond for all those years, but he was not entertained by JPA.

"He went up and down, knocking on doors to sort out this apparent bureaucratic mishap, but to no avail. JPA slammed the door in his face, his wakil rakyat (public representative) also couldn't help him," said Hadi.

To compensate for the mess, Hadi said his friend now works in Singapore to earn a better currency to pay back the half a million Ringgit

Hadi said his friend was also told that if he were to miss any payments, JPA would demand the money from his scholarship guarantor, his retiree father.

"We talk so much about brain drain, but we punish those who choose to come back over simple bureaucratic paperwork that someone could fix with a signature," he opined.

The journalist also lamented how other scholars did not suffer the same consequences simply because they stayed in the US and were not easily chased down by JPA enforcement.

Hadi also wrote that while his friend may have made mistakes while dealing with the government body, he should not have been penalised, especially since he had returned to Malaysia to serve.

"He came to JPA with proof that he had been back and working in Malaysia since graduating, and they still refused to entertain his plea. That's the whole being punished part."

Since the Twitter thread went viral, SAYS reached out to Hadi's friend to obtain more information about his situation

First of all, Wan (name changed to protect his privacy) clarified that he was penalised RM500,000 instead of RM1 million as Hadi had initially written on his Twitter thread.

"Perhaps my friend misheard me, but the amount is actually half a million Ringgit, not a million. The penalty amount is the amount my scholarship covered, which includes tuition fees and living allowance in the US. This value differs based on the course taken and the location of the university," Wan explained.

Wan told SAYS he is currently 34 years old and studied at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2011.

TalentCorp had contacted him during his last semester in university and offered him a job under an initiative called the Scholarship Talent Attraction and Retention (STAR) programme, which is a joint initiative with JPA that provides job opportunities in the private sector to JPA scholars — as opposed to the public sector, where JPA scholars are usually placed — to work while serving and fulfilling their federal scholarship bond.

"Upon my return to KL, I went to the JPA office with all my academic documents to lapor diri (report myself). Everything had to be done in person back then," he recounted.

JPA had asked him to first submit an application to the Public Services Commission (SPA), before he could apply for a job with them. However, before he could go to SPA to apply, he received an offer letter from a multinational company through TalentCorp.

"Under the JPA-TalentCorp agreement, it was mentioned that we will be serving our JPA bond with the private company that TalentCorp found for us. So, I naively assumed everything was taken care of and I would not have to put in applications to SPA anymore," he said.

Fast forward five years later, Wan said he was suddenly served with a writ of summons demanding him to pay RM495,343.61 for absconding from his bond

As Hadi had described, Wan said he went to the JPA office countless times to plead his case and lamented how JPA was adamant that he had to pay the amount because they were not aware that he had returned to Malaysia as he had not completed the 'lapor diri' process.

"Even when I showed proof that they were aware that I was in contact with TalentCorp under the STAR programme, JPA still refused to budge," he said.

"TalentCorp was also made aware of my predicament and they tried to help. However, they were told by JPA not to interfere."

Wan also felt it was unfair that he received no prior warning from JPA about the penalty because the government body had only been mailing warning letters to his old address.

"We argued that it was unfair that JPA did not try to contact me via other means such as email or phone call, to which they responded by saying that it was my responsibility as a JPA bond holder to inform them of my latest house address," he said, adding that the government system should have known, given that he had updated his IC, as well as TalentCorp, with his new address.

In the end, with the case brought to court, Wan said he had to settle to pay JPA the amount back in instalments, instead of a lump sum.

Image via Daily Montanan

Wan admitted that he had undeniably made some careless mistakes while communicating with TalentCorp and JPA

However, he believes that the government could have been more forgiving of the bureaucratic processes he had to navigate as a new graduate, instead of imposing such a hefty penalty on him.

"I was quite naive to expect JPA to be more humane and have empathy by accepting alternate means to resolve the issue. Instead, they chose to be robotic in all their decision-making," he said, adding that he would rather be working in Malaysia, where his family is, instead of pursuing work in Singapore.

"Instead of working out a solution, they would rather penalise me, someone who was just starting out in life, with half a million Ringgit."

"Perhaps I'll end it with this question to anyone reading, were any of the missteps and miscommunications really worth being penalised half a million Ringgit?" he questioned.

"I'm sure any logical person would say no."

SAYS has reached out to JPA for a statement but has yet to receive a response.

Read Hadi's Twitter thread here:

JPA scholars have an option to pay the sponsorship back as a loan if they decide not to work in civil service upon graduation:

In 2016, we spoke to three young JPA scholars about how things panned out for them post-graduation:

Read more recent news on SAYS:

You may be interested in: