DONG Zong has landed itself in a precarious position as it faces prospect of being deregistered by the Registrar of Society (ROS) this month.
It is learnt that some concerned individuals are mulling plans to invite heavyweights in the Chinese community, who may include Tan Sri William Cheng of Lion Group, Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng of IOI Group, Tan Sri Lim Kok Cheong of Yee Lee Group and Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay of YTL Group, to mediate in this protracted crisis before the ROS takes any drastic action.
Obviously, time is of the essence. On June 30, the ROS directed the camp led by original president Yap Sin Tian, who was “ousted” in a legally questionable manner on June 10 by his secretary-general Poh Chin Chuan, to come to a settlement with Poh’s camp this month or face deregistration of Dong Zong.
Yap confirms that this letter was issued to him, Poh and another official.
Caught in the fray: At the height of the conflicts between the two camps were fist fights and night vigils at the premises of Dong Zong in Kajang that house the secretariat as well as the New Era College..
Dong Zong, or the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia, is known to have relentlessly championed Chinese education for decades since the 1950s. It is the apex organisation of 13 state-level Chinese education guilds and is responsible for holding unified examinations for more than 25,000 junior-middle and senior-middle school students from 60 Chinese independent high schools every October since 1975.
Many Chinese community leaders who sit on the managing boards of these 60 schools, as well as students and parents, are now worried that a deregistration will have adverse implications on the holding of the coming unified examinations.
The certificates issued by Dong Zong, though not recognised by the local Education Ministry, are accepted by universities worldwide, including the National University of Singapore and Beijing University.
For those heading the 60 school boards, it is also a concern that the protracted crisis may undermine student enrolment next year. If students cannot sit for the unified exams, parents may not send their children to Chinese high schools, and some may even transfer their children to other schools.
In fact, the New Era College set up by Dong Zong is already facing loss of students. Some students left this year as they are convinced that New Era would never attain “university” status in the near future under such clouded circumstances.
Others fear Dong Zong’s fire may spread to the college. Disgusted college students have disrespectfully described the saga as “The quarrels between old men”, as most of the verbal fighters in Dong Jong are in their late 60s and 70s.
Education aside, the intense debate on whether to support Yap, who has over 20 years of track record in Chinese education movement, or Poh, a businessman from Kedah, is also divisive. Differing stands taken have caused a split among Chinese guilds, as well as family members.
“The crisis of Dong Zong is now a community problem. It has reached a critical point after the ROS issued its ultimatum.
“There is no point debating who is right or wrong now as people are tired of the 18-month-long battle. The most important task now is to find a viable solution to the crisis. If both parties refuse to come to the table, they will become the sinful men of history if Dong Zong is deregistered,” says observer Ng Ho Peng, a former headmaster of Nam Wah Chinese High school in Sitiawan (Perak) for more than 10 years.
He notes that Dong Zong’s 70 years of struggles to ensure Chinese education could stay on in this multi-racial country is filled with tales of sacrifices by legendary leaders such as Lim Lian Goek, Lim Fong Seng, Loke Ting Yee and Sim Mow Yu.
The MCA’s policy stance that Chinese primary schools, which absorb about 90% of Chinese pupils in the country, can never be abolished has also ensured primary Chinese schools are entrenched.
It is known that for decades, Dong Zong had been held in high esteem by the Chinese-educated and the community due to the legacies passed down. During some past general elections, Dong Zong and Jiao Zong (United School Teachers Associations) were even a strong political force to reckon with.
But the present crisis has tarnished its image badly as many outsiders view the battle between Yap and Poh as over matters that were not “deadly major and controversial” for the Chinese education movement, notes Ng in a telephone interview.
Their differences are seen revolving around the handling of issues, personality clashes and personal agendas.
On education, there is disagreement over whether the new Kuantan Chinese private high school should be allowed to take Dong Jong’s unified exams and whether Dong Jong should submit a memorandum to the United Nations to complain about Malaysia’s policy seen as not favouring the development of Chinese schools.
At the height of the conflicts between the two camps were fist fights and night vigils at the premises of Dong Zong in Kajang that house the secretariat as well as the New Era College.
Amid this chaos, Yap lost control over Dong Zong’s secretariat, whose chief executive officer led her staff to speak up against Yap.
On June 10, Poh held a meeting that was claimed as “unconstitutional” by Yap to oust Yap and his deputy. On the same day, Poh’s camp appointed a relatively unknown to be the new president of Dong Zong and submitted to the ROS. This means that the ROS now has two leadership line-ups of Dong Zong.
In response to the warning from ROS on June 30 to settle Dong Jong’s dispute, Poh had in the first week of July sent a letter to Yap inviting him to attend a meeting, giving him two days’ notice. Yap had promptly replied that he could not attend as he had a prior engagement in Sarawak. Yap’s absence from the meeting was greeted with another barrage of stinging attacks from Poh.
In a telephone interview, Yap tells The Star that peace talks could only take place if there is a show of sincerity.
“They invited me to attend a round-table at short notice. To seek a solution, the Poh group must agree to withdraw their list of leaders drawn up on June 10.”
The embattled leader reiterates Poh’s group must agree to return to the status quo on leadership line-up and secretariat operation.
“Both groups must aim to jointly sign a letter to the ROS that Dong Zong has returned to the previous status. They must withdraw their list. This is the broad principle, no compromise. This is the only way to save Dong Zong if the Poh group does not want Dong Zong to be deregistered,” he says.
In a separate telephone interview, Poh says: “If Yap Sin Tian has sincerity to talk, he should not lay conditions. He should not go to Sarawak. He should not apply for court injunctions to stop our meetings and complain to the ROS about us. Now it is impossible to hold talks.
“And if the ROS deregisters Dong Zong, people should not call us the sinful men of history. As for the unified examination, this is a separate matter which is out of our consideration now.”
Poh argues that Yap, who has dodged all recent meetings, knows he could not command the majority at meetings, with nine out of 13 states against him.
Poh says that at the moment, there is no independent “mediator” approaching him yet.
Lai Soon Keat, a political observer who was the former head of Dong Zong’s examination unit, believes that there is no common ground for both rival camps to talk.
“Both lack the will to solve problems. They just want to outdo each other. Both camps are adamant for they have their own agendas and self-interests. Moreover, Poh’s group is still furious that Yap’s supporters have called them running dogs and betrayers of Chinese interest,” says Lai, as he relates in chronological order problems and issues faced by Dong Zong.
Yap’s 10-year leadership first came under scrutiny in 2008 when Dr Kua Kia Soong, who headed New Era College from inception, was removed. This was followed by a series of other incidents said to be badly handled by Yap as president.
But when Poh as secretary-general did not renew the employment contract of one senior staff loyal to Yap in late 2013, which was said could be the fault of the staff, the battlefield was laid.
“Yap’s personal agenda and his bad handling of many issues have landed him in this current state of mess. Many of his former staunch supporters have been deserting him,” says Lai, seen as pro-Poh by Yap’s supporters.
Lai believes nobody “dares to be a mediator now”, with both camps still issuing hard-hitting statements.
In the past, Tan Sri Lim Kok Cheong, the president of the Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia, had proposed a solution that demanded both sides should compromise. But now he has decided to stay out.
Lai notes that with the emergence of China as the world’s second largest economy and the rising commercial value of Chinese education internationally, there is more prestige attached to Dong Zong now, and naturally, more are eyeing its top post.
“But whatever the outcome emerges from this Dong Zong crisis, both camps cannot lead the movement any more as they have lost the respect of the Chinese community. They know the damage is done and they have told their supporters they will step down after emerging victorious in the crisis.”
After supporting these leaders for years, the final loser is the Chinese community. And Dong Zong’s prestige built up over seven decades is now in shambles.