Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fidelis, the OFA commemorative book, part 27

It is D-2 days till the joint launch of FIDELIS, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association, and the start of the PFS Bicentenary Celebrations at the E&O Hotel in George Town, Penang. Apart from the Raja of Perlis and the Governor of Penang, the other distinguished guest will be the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng.

Guan Eng's attendance at the gala dinner function at the E&O Hotel was the subject of many speculations in the past week or so.

Firstly, I've got to make it clear at the onset that we - and by "we", I mean the PFS Bicentenary Committee and The Old Frees' Association (and naturally, myself too) - had absolutely no idea that the date of the dinner would become a source of contention. To me, all these were just innocent arrangements and coincidental. There was nothing ominous or deliberate about them. Nobody was stealing anyone's thunder away. No body-snatching beneath anyone's nose. But I'm writing this in my personal capacity only, and based on my private conversations with some members of these two committees.

It so happened that the PFS Bicentenary Committee had wanted the Raja of Perlis, he being an Old Free himself and who is also the Royal Patron of The Old Frees' Association, to launch the Bicentenary celebrations. Several dates were suggested to the Palace in Arau and word came back from the Palace that 31 Mar 2012 would be a convenient date. We were also informed that the Penang Governor would attend too. As such, with the two distinguished guests having confirmed their attendance, everyone hoped that the Chief Minister of Penang would soon follow suit. And he confirmed soon afterwards.

Everybody was elated and the Gala Dinner sub-committee then went their way to book the venue at the hotel and make all the other necessary arrangements. I was well aware of this as at the same time, our Fidelis editorial team was working on the commemorative book and much information was being shared among us all.

Then out of the blue, I received a text message from an old friend who happened to be an Old Xavierian. "Aiyoh," he texted me, "SXI planned their 160 years on 31 March and all of a sudden, PFS did the same at E&O." In another message, he said that the Chief Minister had already agreed to attend their SXI function on the same evening. And he added, "I kena from the former PFS corporates for snatchng CM away. Too bad, SXI planned for almost six months."

More in alarm than anything else, I emailed Rajendren to ask whether he was aware of the Chief Minister's whereabouts on the evening of 31 March and if not, it would be prudent to re-check with the Chief Minister's Office. The reassuring reply from the OFA president was that he was aware of the SXI event but he confirmed that the Chief Minister would be at our function.

Then in The Star's Metro North section today, a very interesting story appeared about both the Penang Free School and the St Xavier's Institution. Somewhere in this story, the writer touched very briefly on the unenviable position of the Chief Minister, saying that he was due to make an appearance at the PFS Bicentenary launch but only after he officiated the SXI dinner.

I suppose everything must run at clockwork if the Chief Minister must arrive at the SXI to officiate at their grand celebration which starts at 7.20pm before rushing across the road to the E&O by 8.30pm in time for the arrival of the Penang Governor and the royal party.

I am confident that a warm reception awaits the Chief Minister. But it can jolly well turn into a hot or cold reception too, depending on what the Chief Minister says in his speech at our Bicentenary launch. There are several matters that he can touch on which will interest the Old Frees.

For instance, on the 14th of September last year, the PFS Board of Governors had paid a courtesy call on the Chief Minister on the 28th floor of the Komtar Tower. During this courtesy call, there were some important discussions on issues affecting the Penang Free School.

I was told that the first matter raised with the Chief Minister was on the Penang Free School Trust Fund, originally established under the Laws of the Straits Settlements to provide scholarships and prizes to the school’s pupils. As the Chief Minister is officially a trustee of this Trust Fund, the Board requested the Penang Government to contribute at least RM20,000 annually to the Fund.

The second issue was about the heritage status of the Penang Free School. Actually, this should be a matter for national consideration but seeing how the decisions of the National Heritage Department tended to be swayed more by federal politics instead of down-to-earth, matter-of-fact considerations, the Board of Governors urged that the Penang Government should take the lead to declare the Penang Free School as a state heritage.

And thirdly, the Board of Governors requested the Penang Government to return the Headmaster’s residence to the school and not let Puspanita use it for their homestay programmes. This is very unbecoming and desultory for both the Penang Government and Puspanita to use the Headmaster's official residence for such an activity that's totally incongruent with the school's objectives. Moreover, proof has been given to the Penang Government that this particular building within the school's vast compound does not belong to the state but the federal government.

Six months have passed by since that Board of Governors' visit to the Chief Minister. I am hopeful that at the Gala Dinner on Saturday, the Chief Minister will be responding with favourable news to the Penang Free School, The Old Frees' Association and the PFS Bicentenary Committee. However, I am not holding my breath.

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