Opinion

Fake degrees and fake reforms

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“Ong said given the more serious nature of the revelation, Najib must ask the two ministers to quit to reflect his seriousness in upholding accountability.”

- Malay Mail, June 26, 2013

COMMENT | I really did not want to get into this whole “fake degree” fiasco but then I read Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming’s piece about not needing a degree to be an effective politician and realised how much trouble we are in. Ong couldn’t even bring himself to name the minister in question, and chose instead to backtrack on earlier positions he held while maintaining he has been consistent.

Ong's piece is politics at its most craven. Ong is half-right. You do not need professional qualifications to be an effective politician. However, professional qualifications most times add a veneer of legitimacy to mendacious politics because people are conditioned to think that professional degrees add an element of credibility to political rhetoric.

But it adds very little to actual governing and policy-making which entails a different set of skill sets, most importantly political will.

Ong says that a professional qualification is not needed to be an effective politician. This is true. A politician lies or spins, works the party system, makes alliances and enemies and generally does despicable deeds to court votes, and you do not need a professional qualification to do this.

Do all politicians do this? Maybe not, but mainstream political parties are filled with elected politicians who do this.

Furthermore, Ong now claims that when being part of the government or a ministry, “it is more important for you to know your scope of work and your policy responsibilities. Having done a degree may be helpful in training you to think more broadly and critically and hence, better equip you to govern. But it is not guaranteed.”

With regards to “degree mills”, Ong said: “My stand on this issue is clear and has not changed. It is not acceptable for politicians to buy degrees from degree mills and then try to pass these off as being genuine academic degrees.”

On this issue, Ong's stand is not clear. I would argue his stand on this issue was clear but since coming to federal power his stand has been reversed. What Ong says now is radically different from what he said back in the day. The justification he is making now is a mockery of what this Pakatan Harapan reform government is supposed to be about. It does, however, demonstrate that Harapan operatives are excelling in back-pedalling.

In 2013, Ong had asked then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak to sack two ministers who Ong claimed had fake degrees. If anything, his stand then was clear.

Two points need to be understood when considering Ong's change of position. And this is so funny because the headline for the report blares out “Sack ministers with dubious degrees, DAP MP tells PM”.

The first, Ong has a clear position on this issue and demanded the resignation of ministers with fake degrees.

“It is truly disappointing that on the first day for ministerial replies in the first parliamentary sitting since the 13th general election, Malaysians have to accept the reality that Prime Minister Najib Razak has appointed two ministers with two dodgy degrees each from institutions which are degree mills.”

The second, Ong shifts the goal posts. In his piece yesterday, he claimed that not having a degree does not necessarily impede a politician's ability to carry out his policy responsibilities but the question here is, does having a fake degree impede the minster’s ability to carry out his responsibility...

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