KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/ ANN): It began with a deputy minister finding himself in hot water after his academic qualifications were questioned. The controversy then grew to engulf other leading politicians, placing the Malaysian government under scrutiny.
Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya had claimed to have a bachelor's degree from UK-based Cambridge University via a distance learning programme.
But after an activist lodged a police report, he admitted last Wednesday (Feb 6) his degree was actually from Cambridge International University, a suspected degree mill in the United States.
Other leaders from the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition have since been accused of possessing dubious academic qualifications.
These include Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian and Perak executive councillor Paul Yong Choo Kiong.
The scandal is embarrassing for the Pakatan coalition that has always claimed to be a government of high integrity.
Penang Institute political scientist Wong Chin Huat said, “Those in clear-cut cases like Marzuki should resign, others should come clean on their academic qualifications.
“Commendably, Mat Sabu and Zuraida have been upfront that they don’t have the degrees erroneously associated with them by others.
“It’s okay to not have a degree; we don't need all politicians to be technocrats. (But) it’s not okay to have fake degrees.
“If those like Marzuki stay on, they will be hurting the reputation of their government, Pakatan and their own party. If they can't put the country and people first, at least they should put their party first.
“And if they can’t put their party (first) ... their party leaders must put their party before these individuals and have them removed,” he said.
Marzuki, who is facing calls by the opposition Umno party for his resignation, said he will leave it to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to decide his fate.
The revelation of Marzuki's “dubious” academic qualifications led Malaysians to begin independently checking those of other Pakatan leaders.
Zuraida found herself in the spotlight last Saturday (Feb 9) after Twitter user Don Juan deRyezal said he was unable to find her name in the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) degree verification portal.
She later said she had “never claimed or held myself to be a graduate of NUS”.
Mohamad moved to dismiss rumours that he had faked a degree in culinary arts from Malaysia's Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), saying he had actually been expelled as a student.
Osman refused to address the issue when asked if his degree from Universiti Putra Malaysia was fake.
Yong, who claimed to hold a Master's in Business Administration from Akamai University, said the issue surrounding him was an attempt by rivals to gain political mileage.
However, media reports suggested that Akamai University is an alleged degree mill in Hawaii.
When Pakatan was in the opposition, it had called out several Barisan Nasional leaders, including former deputy foreign minister A. Kohillan Pillay and deputy foreign minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot, for allegedly holding fake degrees or qualifications from dubious institutes.
The scandal surrounding Pakatan leaders could possibly damage the ruling coalition further as there is already widespread unhappiness among the Malays.
A recent survey by pollster Ilham Centre found that 59.5% of 2,614 Malay respondents did not approve of the government's performance in the first five months after last May's general election. Malays make up about 50.1% of Malaysia's population. – The Straits Times/ Asia News Network
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