Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 12 Feb 2019

I wasn’t going to write about the sordid fake degree scandal that has infected the PH government until I saw the allegation by one of the Pakatan leaders that this was a “witch hunt” against the PH government leaders.

The expose of public officials with fake degrees is compared to a witch hunt? Let’s get this straight. A witch-hunt is based on false evidence to create moral panic in the community and to get at political opposition. It is not evidence based. All that is required to squash any attempts at a “witch hunt” would be to provide the public with some evidence of the truth of the matter.

This warped practice that seems to infect some of our public officials with an obsession with fake degrees is ultimately an attempt at fraud, which leads to corruption, the national scourge as the Prime Minister has been stressing recently. After all, the NACP aims to curb corruption by focusing on individual integrity. Haven’t we heard enough of the Prime Minister’s exhortations to live honourably in order to avoid being corrupt?

A fraudster by any other name

Public officials who are prepared to obtain status with fake degrees are really fraudsters who cannot be trusted to be honest – hence how would we know if they were involved in corrupt practices? Fraud and corruption exist in various forms ranging from the diploma mills and the counterfeiting of academic documents to bribery to ensure the licensing of academic institutions, the passing of examinations, admission into education programs and the awarding of degrees. And once these fraudsters have managed to obtain their ill-gotten fake degrees, the doorway opens wide to even bigger forbidden fruits – as we are sadly all too familiar with in Malaysia.

Someone who is prepared to obtain a fake degree as a fraudulent credential is basically dishonest, has no integrity or self-respect. Once a public official has been discovered to have dubious academic qualifications, he or she brings shame and disdain to the country. And if such an official still does not resign to save the honour of the institution and the country, there should rightly be a campaign by the media and civil society to ensure he or she does resign.

Zero tolerance for fake degree holders

It was a few years ago when DAP leaders started this expose of Malaysian public figures with dubious degrees. This included a former Chairman of the Chinese education group Dong Zong who was reputed to have not one but three PhDs! Today he shamelessly clings on to the chairmanship of Dong Jiao Zong’s Higher Learning Centre that runs New Era College even though he is no longer Chairman of Dong Zong!

Then while they were in opposition, DAP MPs had also tried to expose the fact that two ministers in the prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s cabinet had fake degrees from dubious universities. Obviously, it reflects badly on the government to have ministers who have no self-respect or self-confidence. Thus, we have much to thank the DAP MPs for highlighting the need for zero tolerance of fake degree holders.

Compromises, patronage and corruption

For all the PH government’s fanfare about eradicating corruption and kleptocracy, their campaign has failed to address the root causes of corruption for the simple reason that they refuse to see the wood for the trees! So, we notice that in spite of all the efforts by Professor Terence Gomez to point to the presence of covert networks of power at federal and state levels to secure material wealth by politicians, the PH government has been pretending to play deaf and dumb!

To help the PH government understand how corrupt practices were perpetrated by the last government, the good professor has pointed out (based on his rigorous study of the evidence) how government officials linked with business elites have dictated how contracts were to be issued:

“If government leaders have the power to decide on policies and resource allocation and their party members have a presence in GLCs responsible for implementing policies and dispensing publicly-generated resources, then there is a serious problem here. However, and shockingly, the NACP still endorses, even justifies, politicians serving as directors of GLCs…The NACP gives the appearance that it is unaware that 1MDB was also incorporated to serve as a mechanism to raise money to fund political activities. Indeed, the stipend politicians receive as directors of GLCs is widely believed to be channelled to parties to fund their activities, surely a case of conflict-of-interest. And the NACP gives no indication that it is aware of widespread allegations that property firms, which actively fund parties in power, have easy access to construction contracts.”

Where was the zero tolerance against corruption and patronage when a high-ranking leader of Parti Pribumi recently suggested that the government should allocate contracts for their own division chiefs since they had to win GE15 “by hook or by crook”. Where is the PH government’s credibility to eradicate corruption when their top leaders are demanding patronage “by crook”?

Over the years, the disease of patronage and political appointments by the ruling government has spread to local governments and that is why in my view, there is lack of political will by the PH government to introduce local council elections. And that is why the campaign against corruption is just cosmetic as long as we do not tackle the structural networks of political patronage and conflicts of interest.

Thus, it looks as if we do need to have robust campaigns against all kinds of corrupt practices, from public officials who buy fake degrees to rooting out corruption at the source by separating GLC operations and local councils from the interfering hands of government officials.

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