As Dr M takes over MoE, claims abound of Maszlee’s men in key positions

Dr Mahathir Mohamad listens to a briefing from officials of the education ministry on Jan 16, a week after he was announced as the temporary replacement for Maszlee Malik. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: One of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tasks as he takes over from Maszlee Malik in the education ministry is to review key posts in the government’s education agencies and higher education institutes, an insider in the ministry told FMT.

This comes amid criticism that they have been filled with those aligned to a certain Muslim organisation that the former minister has been active in.

FMT understands that there have been concerns over the appointments made by Maszlee, not least whether the appointees were truly qualified for their jobs.

These include the posts of the vice-chancellor (VC), who is the de facto head, in several public universities, as well as education agency heads and ministry officials.

There were worries that the Malaysian Qualification Agency, the government body tasked with accrediting academic programmes in higher learning institutions, was also to have been headed by someone closely aligned to Maszlee.

This was after its CEO Rahmah Mohamed’s tenure ended just a day before Maszlee’s resignation, with no replacement named.

“Now that he has resigned, the MQA may be spared from getting a Maszlee man as its head, but that is not the case with many key academic positions,” said the source.

It said there were some truth in recent claims that universities and educational agencies were being filled up with people “who shared the same religio-political incubator” as Maszlee.

The source was referring to Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia, a Muslim organisation with various networks throughout the country, whose religious outlook resembles that of Ikhwan Muslimin, or the Muslim Brotherhood, the pan-Arabian Islamic movement seen as the more progressive offshoot of Salafism.

Salafism is a more friendly name given to Wahhabism, the doctrine that has inspired decades-old oppressive laws in Saudi Arabia.

“There were rumblings about how Maszlee ran the show, there are reports that he was putting Islamists in very important positions but this is not entirely correct,” the source told FMT.

But he said not all those he appointed, some of whom he knew personally, could be lumped as Islamists, “let alone salafists”.

Maszlee resigned as education minister on Jan 2, just as schools opened nationwide. He said he was asked by Mahathir to vacate the post following complaints on his performance. The Cabinet later agreed to appoint the prime minister as a temporary replacement for the portfolio.

There have been rumblings of Maszlee’s choice of vice-chancellors in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara and Universiti Malaysia Sabah, as well as senior positions in the higher education department and the government’s national language development agency, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, which comes under the education ministry.

But the most contentious of these appointments were those for the VC post in public varsities.

“These appointments usually go through the Public University VC Selection Committee, which hunts for the most qualified candidates to be proposed to the education minister,” a source told FMT.

“What happened was that people who were supposed to search for candidates were given names by influential people in the committee and there were allegations that some of these candidates were not qualified.”

An article published on Ikram’s website has rubbished such claims, saying VCs were appointed based on merit in a departure from past practices under the Barisan Nasional administration.

“After various feedback from academia and a town hall session in mid July 2018, a new selection process and system were introduced,” wrote Dr Musa Nordin, a staunch defender of Maszlee, his fellow active member in the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF).

MPF recently had to battle allegations that a half-day conference it co-organised with a body chaired by Anwar Ibrahim was to prop up the Islamic credentials of the PKR president after being sidelined in the high-profile KL Summit last December.

Musa said the VC Selection Committee made recommendations based on “academic excellence, meritorious scholarship, visionary and intellectual leadership”.

He attacked Maszlee’s critics as “despicable characters” who were eyeing the giant pie of the national budget given to the education ministry.

“Besides, the education ministry sits on a gold mine, RM64.1 billion to be exact, which under Maszlee’s minister-ship, none of these scumbags and cronies could smell a penny.”

However, Musa admitted that one-fifth of those handpicked by Maszlee – six in total – were registered members of Ikram.

“That itself is a cause of worry. Six individuals being card carrying members of one organisation is no coincidence,” one source told FMT.