Of fake degrees, fraud and corruption

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

After all, the National Anti-Corruption Plan (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 are involved in corrupt practices? Fraud and corruption exist in various forms ranging from diploma mills and the counterfeiting of academic documents to bribery to ensure the licensing of academic institutions, the passing of examinations, admission into education programmes and the awarding of degrees.

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 and 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 be a campaign by the media and civil society to ensure that he or she does resign.

Zero tolerance for fake degree holders

It was a few years ago that DAP leaders started the 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 which runs New Era College even though he is no longer chairman of Dong Zong!

While they were in the opposition, DAP MPs also tried to expose the fact that two ministers in then-prime minister Najib 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 must 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, its campaign has failed to address the root causes of corruption for the simple reason that its leaders refuse to see the wood for the trees! So, we notice that in spite of all the efforts by Terence Gomez – an academic from Universiti Malaya – 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 pointed out (based on his rigorous study of 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 for corruption and patronage when a high-ranking leader of PPBM 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 its 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. 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 will remain cosmetic as long as we do not tackle the structural networks of political patronage and conflicts of interest.

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.

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.