National

Is PERMATA expanding its reach just like the Prime Minister’s Department?

By Dr Ong Kian Ming

Rosmah at the website launch of Permata (pic from Permata website)

Rosmah at the website launch of Permata (pic from Permata website)

My colleague, Liew Chin Tong, MP for Kluang, and Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Strategy Director for Parti Amanah Negara, highlighted how the budget for the Prime Minister’s Department had doubled from RM10b in 2009 to RM20b in 2016. At the same time, the jurisdiction reach and programs under the Prime Minister’s Department also expanded significantly under Najib’s tenure. Almost any new large scale spending program whether it is PR1MA housing or the Pan-Borneo Expressway was parked under the Prime Minister’s Department.

It seems that the same kind of over reach has been emulated by the PERMATA program which is also parked under the Prime Minister’s Department. From its initial humble beginnings to provide a conducive learning environment for gifted students aged below 5 years of age, PERMATA has significantly expanded its reach and also the number of programs under its jurisdiction.

For example, in six years, the number of Permata childcare centers or Pusat Anak Permata Negara (PAPN) has increased to a total of 88 centers in every state around the country.

A Kolej PERMATA Pintar was built in UKM in order to cater to ‘gifted’ students from ages 9 to 15 at a cost of RM83m (RM20m for Phase 1 and RM63m for Phase 2). Summer camps are run, in collaboration with the Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, for some of these gifted children.

The PERMATA Seni program was then established in order to identify talented children in the area of arts including singing, dancing and music. A total of RM17.5m was allocated to this program from 2010 to 2014.

Perkasa Remaja was then established for the purpose of reaching out to ‘at risk’ youth by introducing them to community-based preventive programs (called [email protected]) and through a curative camp-based intervention program (called [email protected]).

The total allocation for Perkasa Remaja from 2010 to 2014 was RM6.4m.

PERMATA Kurnia was established as an outreach initiative for autistic children via an autism center as well as through research and training. An RM10m autism center was built through the PERMATA Kurnia initiative in 2014.

PERMATA Insan is an initiative to identify gifted children in the area of Quranic and Islamic studies and is parked under the Islamic Science University of Malaysia (USIM) with the intention of nurturing these talents as future Islamic scholars.

A total of RM24m was allocated to PERMATA Insan including RM18m for a new building at USIM.

(* including RM18m for the building of a PERMATA Insan Center at USIM)

Finally, a speciality children’s hospital called the Hospital Kanak-Kanak PERMATA is currently being constructed. The projected cost of this project Is RM600m and is financed via a build-lease-maintain-transfer (BLMT) Private Finance Initiative (PFI) model. According to PERMATA’s website, this hospital was inspired by its Patron, after she had visited many children’s hospitals around the world. The expected completion date for this hospital is in 2017.

All in all, a total of RM518m has been allocated to PERMATA for its various programs, out of which RM190m was spent on development expenditure i.e. the building of the various centers and another RM328m was spent on operating expenditure, the majority of which goes towards paying the salaries of teachers at the Permata Negara early children learning centers and the staff at the PERMATA division under the Prime Minister’s Department. 

permata-budget

While these initiatives may not be bad initiatives in themselves, the following questions must be raised:

  1. Why are the other ministries or departments not stepping in to lead some of these initiatives e.g. the Ministry of Health for the Children’s Hospital and the Ministry of Education for the identification and training of Gifted Children rather than leaving this for PERMATA to drive?
  2. To what extent has the various PERMATA programs been able to achieve its goals?
  3. What is to stop PERMATA from further expanding into other areas which concern the youth and children and over reaching into more areas?

In the interest of future sustainability, shouldn’t these programs be parked under existing ministries and / or the relevant government agency or department? Without any checks and balances, PERMATA may continue to expand in the same manner as what has been happening in the Prime Minister’s Department over the past 8 years under the leadership of Prime Minister Najib.

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