Monday, 28 April 2014

Time to reclaim the headmaster's residence

To me, it was rather ironical that while the annual general meeting at The Old Frees' Association was debating the continuing use of the Penang Free School headmaster's residence in the school compound as a homestay bungalow run by the Puspanita organisation, we did not know that the Police had raided the bungalow in the wee hours of the same morning and arrested 88 people there. The Star's story here.

It turned out later that of the 88 that were nabbed, 60 of them - including 15 students - had tested positive for drugs (cannabis and methamphetamine). So it was a drug den that the Police had uncovered, right under the noses of the people that were running the Puspanita homestay.

For at least three years already, The Old Frees' Association had been very unhappy that the headmaster's residence had been taken over by the Penang government and rented out to Puspanita. In the first place, this bungalow as well as the other bungalows on the PFS land do not sit on state land. There are documents to show that the title still vests with the Federal government, and this has been told to the Penang state secretary.

Also, the Penang Chief Minister is well aware of this, as well as the Penang Governor. But it seemed that they have been unable or reluctant to do anything. Was it because of the perceived fear of the powerful position of Puspanita? What's Puspanita, anyway? It stands for the Wives of Civil Servants and Women Civil Servants Association and in this case, it was the Penang branch of the nation-wide organisation. So it stands to reason why the Penang civil service was very reluctant, especially, to upset the aprons behind the senior civil servants in the state.

All this has changed since the raid on the bungalow premises on 20 April morning. Immediately after the incident came to light, the Penang deputy state secretary issued a statement two days later saying that the government was taking back the bungalow from Puspanita.

“The incident has tarnished the image of the state government and in accordance with the instructions from the Chief Minister, the state government decided to terminate all contracts made due to violation of the terms of the agreement with Puspanita. The State Secretariat has been instructed to take over the management of the building effective immediately,” he said in a statement.

That the state government had taken back the bungalow could not have come at a better time when the school's Board of Governors are clamouring for the headmaster's residence to be returned to the school.

Perhaps right now, the state secretariat will take notice of the Board's request and do what's right for the school. With the Bicentenary coming up in 2016, there were plans identified about two years back that the premises would be an ideal location to house the School Archives permanently.

Well and good if the school were to get the headmaster's residence back. But in the first place, how was it that the premises was not occupied by the headmaster? Since the Penang Free School relocated to Green Lane in 1928, it is a tradition that the headmaster would always stay here.

When I was a student here, Tan Boon Lin, Poon Poh Kong and KG Yogam stayed here. I would presume that their successors had also been residing here. So who was the last headmaster that stayed in this bungalow? It must have been many, many years already. Whoever was the succeeding headmaster that gave up the chance to live here should disclose why he did not choose to uphold one of the school's traditions. As an Old Free, I would be most interested to understand why for history's sake.

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