UKECash: The high price of intellectual discussion

ukecBy David Lim

The article written by Fariz Usman entitled “The irrelevance of student leaders” has been trending for the past week, creating quite the buzz amongst Malaysian students around the world.

For some people, it was a shock to find that our student leaders are spending RM180,000 on a single student conference. Seeing that it made the rounds even among my close friends and having known and experienced what has been said by Fariz, I feel compelled to write this piece to respond to those who think that what has been said so far are mere baseless accusations. No, it is not.

That piece only scratched the surface of what has been years of mismanagement especially in regard to the finances of the United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students or UKEC.

For all its claims of leadership and relevance, it has been incompetent at maintaining both claims for many reasons. One of it, and the most significant – is the way it spends money.

Student organisations around the world, not just Malaysian ones, would do almost anything to have the amount of money that UKEC has amassed over the past decade. A lot could be done using RM180,000, whether it be for charity or welfare initiatives. What gives them the right and privilege to spend RM180,000 on a single event for a few hundred people?

Misplaced spending priorities

Your outlay is RM600 per participant (assuming there are 300 participants), and it could be even higher if attendance indeed does drop to as low as 120. What’s worse is that a lot of this expenditure is unnecessary.

Friends of mine who were from UKEC justified their lavish spending on the event by saying they had a “certain standard” to meet. It is no wonder why their events are always in lavish places like the Intercontinental Hotel, Hilton Hotel and now the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC).

No other student organisation does this because often they are under financial constraints. The Malaysian Public Policy Competition (MPPC) is organised annually at Sunway University while the prestigious St Gallen Symposium takes place at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland.

Last year, KPUM had their PRU Law Reform Competition at BAC while the Malaysian Students’ Technology Conference by Young Malaysian Engineers (YME) was held at Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus.

Even President Barack Obama held his Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative town hall sessions in Universiti Malaya and Taylor’s University. Looking at all these great intellectual initiatives, don’t you think that UKEC’s spending priorities are misplaced?

Speaking of KLCC, since UKEC will be having their Malaysian Student Leaders Summit (MSLS) there this year, there was a scandal that took place a few years back that only those familiar or close to the committee then knew about.

One of them said, “You think spending RM180,000 on an event is bad, what’s worse is when you put down RM80,000 for deposit and you lose it completely.”

When pressed for clarification, this individual explained that they had tried to organise the MSLS at the KLCC, which required for them to make a RM80,000 as deposit. However, they couldn’t get the desired number of attendees and had to forgo the deposit instead. Nevertheless, they still managed to spend hundreds of thousands of ringgit on another venue instead.

I was astounded as to how people did not know about it, until she told me that since they only needed to present the financial statement at the AGM, they manipulated it to cover up the deposit they lost.

Now, they are organising the same event at the same venue. This lavish spending habit needs to end. Too much money is being spent on aspects that could have easily cost less or even nothing.

If the UKEC is a true advocate of student activism, they should start by implementing true financial controls. Don’t be fooled by simple financial statement presentations at their AGMs and OGMs, because the value of your student activism has a cost and it is NOT to your benefit.

David Lim is an FMT reader.

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The irrelevance of student leaders

The big picture of UKEC