Wife of Malaysia's PM defends her Permata education programme

Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor said she would not step down as the patron of child-education programme Permata, on Feb 18, 2018. PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

LANGKAWI - The wife of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Sunday (Feb 18) that she won't quit her post as the patron of child-education programme Permata, even if there is pressure to do so from the opposition.

"Various accusations were hurled at us as though I had pressured the government to increase the allocation for Permata, as though I had misappropriated the Permata funds for personal benefit," Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor said at an event in Langkawi, as quoted by Bernama news agency.

"Whatever these people want to say, it's all right. For the sake of the Malaysian children, I just ignore like the passing wind all the false accusations from the opposition, even though they are bitter for me to swallow," she added.

Permata has courted controversy from its formation 10 years ago, as it is seen by the opposition as a vehicle for Madam Rosmah to push her pet project using public funds.

Permata, which means gem in Malay, is parked under the Prime Minister's Department and not under the Education Ministry. It is thus not part of that ministry's purview.

PM Najib in unveiling the Budget in October last year said Permata will get an annual allocation of RM54.3 million (S$18.3 million) for 2018, up nearly 20 per cent from RM45.3 million the previous year.

Madam Rosmah got flak from the opposition too after visiting the United Kingdom in August last year using Permata funds. The trip included a visit to Oxford University.

She said the trip was not for a holiday but to "pave the way for children under the Permata early childhood education program to join the university", local media reported.

Opposition MP Ong Kian Ming had said then that she only needed to visit Singapore next door if she wanted to find out how to boost children's education to get them into Oxford or Cambridge University.

"Singapore sends nine times more students to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge than Malaysia on a per capita basis. Given Singapore's success in sending so many more students to Oxbridge than Malaysia, it would make sense for Rosmah to visit Singapore to learn more about the 'secrets' of their success," Mr Ong had said.

Madam Rosmah said on Sunday that as the wife of the country's number one leader, she could not just stay home or accompany the prime minister in discharging his official duties, Bernama reported.

She instead felt it was necessary for her to contribute to the nation.

"I strongly hold to the principle that all children are assets and a jewel to the country. They have the same right to grow together as cheerful children and become the nation's human capital," she said.

She said 500,000 children has undergone or are undergoing Permata's pre-school educational programmes from 2007 to 2017, Bernama reported.

She said Permata had identified 300 children who had a high level of IQ, aged between two and five.

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