Has the NCB run its course?

Sometimes, the one chosen to conduct a course is more important than the content stipulated on paper. In the case of courses run under the National Civics Bureau, there have been complaints over what is being ‘preached’ and the controversy has raised all sorts of allegations.


IT’S always the same old story. A programme is designed for a specific aim but the implementation takes it off its course. An exemplary case of this would be the courses, particularly the Kursus Kenegaraan(Nationhood Course), run under the National Civics Bureau or Biro Tatanegara (NCB).

What is on paper is in keeping with the objectives of the bureau – to foster patriotism among citizens, targeting civil servants, and students who have been offered scholarships to study abroad – but the reality bites very differently.

Testimonies from those who have attended the courses bear witness to how far the programme has deviated from its objectives and has instead taken on strong racial and political notes, often shrouded in some sort of secrecy.

Officially, NCB runs the Kursus Kenegaraan to inculcate a sense of patriotism and loyalty to the elected government, which is to be carried out professionally based on ethical principles.

Although the NCB is supposed to play a part in national integration and unity, feedback from certain participants says it does the exact opposite.

Established in 1974 as the Youth Research Unit (Unit Penyelidikan Belia) under the Culture, Youth and Sports Ministry, it was later placed under the Prime Minister’s Department in 1981 and renamed NCB in June the following year.

A total of RM74mil was allocated for the NCB this year, while RM62mil has been allocated for 2010. Over the past 10 years, the total budget for the NCB is RM548mil.

Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, Machang MP and a former secretary of Umno Youth, says he used to be part of the system and has intimate knowledge of how the NCB works.

He says the course is designed for civil servants and students of public universities.

“It is a captive crowd, and the present practice is that it is compulsory to attend before they (civil servants) can be promoted. It is only a matter of time; sooner or later everyone (in public service) will attend it,” says Saifuddin who is now the PKR election director.

“On paper, the syllabus looks fine and is even beneficial. There is nothing wrong with the structure and objectives of its modules. However, you have to look at what is tersurat (written) and what is tersirat(hidden).

“The syllabus is one thing, but the person who conducts the course is another. Now, facilitators and speakers do not follow the syllabus,” adds Saifuddin.

But Deputy Education Minister Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi describes some of the allegations as “unfair”.

He told the media recently that NCB courses promote the 1Malaysia concept and that its objective is to foster national unity.

“The rakyat needs to understand what we are trying to achieve; there is nothing wrong with the NCB courses,” he said.

Terengganu Umno chairman of Training and Cadre Bureau Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar, too, has defended the programme. He has been reported as saying that it should, however, be upgraded to reflect the times. From his years of experience in dealing with NCB courses in the past, he said, facilitators were the key component in the courses and their selection had to be done carefully.

“Sometimes they get carried away and incorporate their own ideas.”

MP Datuk Johari Abdul (PKR-Sungai Petani), a NCB director from 1986 to 1990, shares that the aim of the agency then was to inject a sense of competitiveness, awareness and patriotism among the bumiputra students who were given Government scholarships.

“They were not performing as well as the non-Malays even though opportunities for the non-Malays were fewer,” he says.

He accepts that there were certain racist elements in the course during his time at the NCB, but claims that he was not comfortable with it even then.

“Personally, I did not like certain things about the course,” he says.

Johari admits he played the role of Joseph Gobbell (Adolf Hitler’s Propaganda Minister), but says he has repented for his “sins”.

But no hatred was preached towards the non-Malays back then, he adds.

Most of the speakers or lecturers at the course were civil servants who were highly committed people, he says. “They worked hard for certain purposes, depending on what their bosses wanted.”

Johari alleges that the NCB was then used to as a tool to spread propaganda among students.

“I feel that it has been derailed from its course,” he says.

Things came to a head when the Selangor state government barred all its civil servants, students in state-run higher learning institutions, and employees of government-linked companies from attending the course. In its place, Selangor decided to organise its own version of the programme called Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Social, or SPIES, which could materialise as soon as next month.

The Penang and Kelantan state governments followed suit, with immediate effect.

Following the uproar arising from the decisions, politicians from both sides of the divide called for the abolition of the course although there were politicians from the Government who defended it.

In what was seen by some parties as an admission of the NCB’s shortcomings, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz said if the course was for only one racial group, then that is not 1Malaysia.

“The co-curriculum will be brought in line with the Prime Minister’s 1Malaysia, which means it will be more inclusive and will not divide Malaysians,” he said recently in response to the developments.

Nazri added that the NCB would overhaul its courses following a Cabinet meeting, and the decision was made “long before” the Selangor government’s decision.

The minister took a swipe at the Opposition by adding that its members who had previously been in the Government, such as Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, had been involved with the course and were well aware of the contents.

MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (BN-Gua Musang) also backed the closure of the NCB, claiming that he was a victim of its controversial courses when he led an opposition front.

However, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said there was no need to revamp the training modules as they were fine in instilling the patriotic spirit among Malaysians. In response, Nazri labelled Mahathir racist for defending the training modules, and a public spat between them ensued.

Saifuddin discloses that NCB is run by party loyalists and the current culture in the agency is a reflection of what they hope to achieve. Although there has never been any direct instruction from top party leaders, the system allows a free-for-all.

“The modules mention nothing about promoting any hidden agenda but it happens,” he says.

Saifuddin claims that in the past, when Anwar was in Government, all the state NCB directors were inclined towards Anwar.

“There was no direct instruction, but they ‘knew’ what to do. Similarly, I do not think (Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak) has condoned what is happening now,” he says.

However, he says, even in the past, the NCB had allowed itself to be used by certain factions within Umno to push their own political agenda.

“If the head of a particular division knew someone was going to challenge him, and if he had good connections with the state NCB, he would ask them to organise a course for his division members.

“It was for his own interest – he could go there and speak, or even request a minister to speak on his behalf,” he claims, adding that it is usually worse before party elections.

“This cannot be denied by anybody,” says Saifuddin.

Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim, former special advisor on ethics to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, says that courses supported by public funds should ensure public interest is served above all else.

“If we are really keen on promoting 1Malaysia with all that it implies then obviously all these racist and supremacist elements must be wiped out completely,” says the DAP vice-chairman.

Tunku Abdul Aziz believes that although the content may look acceptable, selecting the right people to conduct the course was important.

“If the Government is thinking about revising the syllabus, then it should also ensure proper screening of the course conductors. The presenters should be people who believe in the idea of Malaysia for all Malaysians. People who believe in unity and equal opportunity.

“I think it is important that they look at this exercise carefully. If they want a united Malaysia then all racist elements have to be re mo ved,” Tunku Abdul Aziz adds.

But there are those who still support the courses run by the NCB, including Prof Zainal Kling, a committee member of Gapena. He says the NCB was set up to educate civil servants, the public, NGOs and local students on public policies and the formation of the nation.

“It is obvious that the ruling party will want the people to fully understand all these issues,” he says.

When asked about the racist elements in the course, Zainal says it is the way some people decided to interpret the course.

“We are talking about the country’s history and the Federal Constitution. Is that racism? They are interpreting it in that way for their own political reasons,” he says.

Nevertheless, he says, the current curriculum could be revamped to suit the ideology of 1Malaysia.

His suggestion is echoed by Irmohizam Ibrahim, the information chief of the Fede ration of Peninsular Malay Students Asso ciations (GPMS). He does not agree to the course being revamped, feeling it should be upgraded to keep up with the current ideologies promoted by the Government.

He says he was unsure about the racist elements although there are discussions about Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which safeguards the special rights of the Malays and Bumiputras.

“The interpretation of racism has to be clear. I feel the course was run according to the spirit of the Constitution,” he says.

Irmohizam attended NCB courses in 2005 and 2006 and says they promoted patriotism and team building among the participants.

As for the bashing of opposition parties, he says he did not come across any of these elements.

“We gained knowledge from the courses and increased our patriotism. I urge the public not to be negative about the programme,” he says.