Nearly RM1b down the drain as Besut education hub ravaged by vandals

By Zurairi AR
The cover of a leaked report detailing the damages in Taman Ilmu, Besut as sighted by Malay Mail Online.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — The education hub dubbed Taman Ilmu, or Malay for “Knowledge Park”, near Besut, Terengganu had been near completion in 2014, after years of neglect caused by dwindling funds and lack of political will.

But just two years later, the 280-hectare complex that ostensibly cost RM746.26 million has again fallen into ruin after it was ransacked by vandals, looters and scavengers.

A leaked report dated October 2016 and sighted by Malay Mail Online this week estimated that it will now take another RM230.6 million simply to restore the project in the seaside village of Tembila to just 60 per cent of its original target.

The report also revealed the extent of the damage that the project — initially an initiative by former Terengganu mentri besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh to transform rural Besut — has suffered.

Photos in the leaked report showing damaged ceilings in the building.

Apart from the park’s RM60 million grand mosque that has been open to public since 2014, the rest of the project was stripped down in one way or another, from its library to even its district cooling system and sewage treatment plant.

In many of the photos purportedly showing the interiors of the buildings there, ceilings were seen collapsed, revealing bare steel bars. Cabinet doors were ajar, and many were broken into.

At the track-and-field sports complex, a floodlight tower was shown lying on the ground, with shards of glass and sprawling cables surrounding it.

Photos showing damages to the track-and-field sports complex.

A cost summary included in the report stated that RM872.5 million was budgeted for the project, more than double from the RM400 million estimate back in 2013.

Shockingly, a RM38 million main administration building was simply demolished half-way after RM17.86 million had been spent on it, due to substandard building materials and safety issues.

Of the total budget, only RM144.1 million remains, hardly enough to cover the refurbishing cost.

Malay Mail Online is seeking verification on the project’s status from Idris and Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman.

Photos showing damages to the district cooling system.

Last month, Ahmad Razif was reported saying in Malay daily Berita Harian that the project is expected to start operations this October.

Ahmad Razif said the state government is working together with the Higher Education Ministry led by Idris, who is also Besut MP, to realise the project.

Photos showing damages to the sewage treatment plant.

In 2013, Malay Mail Online reported that construction at the site had been slow and, in some parts, even came to a standstill after Idris’ successor and political rival Datuk Seri Ahmad Said took over administration of Terengganu. It was originally planned to be completed by 2008.

During Malay Mail Online’s visit then, there was no visible security presence, and neighbourhood youths were free to explore the site on bicycles unhindered.

Work on the park started in the middle of 2007, about three years after Idris succeeded in wresting back Terengganu from a short-lived PAS rule, and a year shy of the election that would see state Ruler, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, replace him with Ahmad.

This comes as public universities will see their combined operating budgets for this year slashed by about 19 per cent, or RM1.5 billion, a bigger cut than 2016’s budget.

Out of the 20 public universities in Malaysia, 10 face massive cuts ranging from over 10 per cent to over 31 per cent ― including many top-ranking institutions ― under Budget 2017 announced in October last year.

This was after the Higher Education Ministry's total allocation for 2017 fell further to RM12.13 billion from RM13.38 billion for 2016, even as Putrajaya increased its overall budget to RM260.8 billion. The government also expects to reduce the fiscal deficit to 3 per cent of the gross domestic product.

There was public uproar over the 2016 reduction that saw 19 out of 20 universities’ budgets cut, with some losing over 20 per cent from their previous allocation, such as Universiti Malaya which then had a 27.3 per cent or RM175 million cut.