Doubts over ministers’ degrees raised in parliament

An altercation between government and opposition MPs ensued in Malaysia’s parliament this week when government officials appeared to brush off questions about the academic credentials of the ministers of human resources and of science, technology and innovation.

Ong Kian Ming, a Democratic Action Party opposition MP, questioned the validity of the academic credentials of Human Resources Minister Richard Riot, who is a former deputy foreign minister, and of Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Ewon Ebin, as well as the qualifications of the CEOs of two major corporations.

“These people have gone so far in the government and corporate world by having these fake degrees, masters and doctorates from well-known certificate manufacturers,” he said in the Dewan Rakyat, or parliament, on 2 October.

Ong previously raised the issue in June, after noting entries on the foreign ministry website – now removed – that said Riot’s MBA was from the allegedly bogus Preston University in the United States.

Ewon was said to have qualifications from Golden State University in Wyoming and the Commonwealth Open University in the British Virgin Islands, listed as ‘unauthorised schools and invalid degrees’ by the Oregon and Maine state governments, according to Ong.

Riot fights bach

Riot, who was in parliament, rebutted the allegation. “There is a difference between fake degrees and credentials from unrecognised universities,” he told the assembly.

He said afterwards: “I worked very hard for three years and received a doctorate from Kuala Lumpur Infrastructure University College in August.” He had previously said that he obtained his undergraduate degree from the genuine University of Hertfordshire in England, and a masters.

Riot, an MP for 23 years and also deputy president of the Sarawak United People’s Party, said that as a former deputy foreign minister he had represented Malaysia and spoken at various international conferences and forums all over the world without problems.

During parliamentary questions, Ong called on the prime minister to state the measures that would be taken to punish people who use fake degrees or degrees from unrecognised universities.

A minister in the prime minister’s department, Shahidan Kassim, told the assembly on behalf of the prime minister that nothing could be done if it was “for personal use”.

“What can we do, if he just wants to frame it up and hang it in his house? If action is to be taken, then we must draft new laws. It is similar to fake goods from China, where it says ‘Louis Vuitton’ but it is not the original,” said Shahidan.

“But if the person uses the degrees to apply for jobs in the government or private sector, then there are proper channels where we can take actions against them.”

Shahidan said that people guilty of using fake degrees or degrees from unrecognised universities to gain employment or promotion could be sacked, pointing out that there had been two such cases in the civil service between 2007 and 2012. But he declined to comment on the specific cases raised by Ong.

Commotion in the house

His reply caused a commotion in the house, in particular because of its flippant tone.

In a statement released afterwards, Ong criticised Shahidan for a response that amounted to “an insult to the intelligence of all Malaysians”. His reaction confirmed that the government had no political will to address “this very serious issue”.

“It also demonstrated that the minister does not understand the gravity of the situation,” Ong said.

“A person who buys a fake degree or who obtains one from a degree mill demonstrates a gap in moral credibility that far exceeds that of a person who buys fake handbags. A minister who cannot see that difference shows his ignorance about the need for integrity, especially when it comes to the arena of academic qualifications,” Ong said.

“Have our standards of integrity sunk so low that we can turn a blind eye to this and make a joke out of it?”

Ong and other Democratic Action Party MPs first raised the issue when the ministers were appointed after elections in June, and called on the ministers to resign if their degrees were proven to be fake.

He said then: “What makes this revelation more ironic is the fact that both ministers are in charge of ministries where human capital development, proper accreditation, certification and standards are key responsibilities.”