Certificates and gimmicks

I THINK by now we have all heard of how a huge gathering of chefs led to an event company issuing a "certificate" from the Guinness Book of Records, and later saying it was only a "gimmick". Most probably because the "certificate" was highlighted by a minister on Twitter.

On a side note, congratulations to Entopia based in Penang on being recognised by the Malaysian Book of Records for the biggest "green wall" in Malaysia.

That being said, this issue highlights a larger problem in Malaysia – the issuing of fake certificates not just as a gimmick but for courses, competency and even titles.

Fraud is a systemic problem in Malaysia, particularly in the growing and improperly regulated marketplace. We can blame globalisation or just look at it as a typical omission of fact that nobody bothers to check.

Let us start with educational certificates and fake degrees. These are aplenty and have actually sparked the press and social media to take action. One Facebook page on such a crusade is Pseudoscience Watch – a medical watchdog group with a harsh but justified cynicism for multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes and fake academic credentials.

Currently, the administrators are attacking fake doctors promoting ozone therapy, which has been under the spotlight of the Ministry of Health for the usage of heparin, a blood thinner. It has also highlighted how lecturers are luring students into MLM schemes, how doctors and professors are promoting fake treatment, businesses and products on social media.

However, I must say something out loud – Pseudoscience Watch also highlights the problem of fake degree holders given airtime over TV and radio, and space in newspapers.

The Facebook page has gone so far as to highlight multiple fake doctorate holders going on television alongside artists and promoting dubious products.

Thus, there is a need for media to be monitored for giving airtime to fraudsters, who may end up conning millions of Malaysians who actually bother to watch these shows.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a huge outcry from the public regarding these.

Perhaps it is because not many of us actually watch these channels, but this should not stop government-owned media from taking note and to stop giving such conmen coverage.

The fake degree trend had actually led to more questions being raised about what laws were in place to deal with such cases by Serdang lawmaker Ong Kian Ming in 2013. Sadly, nothing has been done since then.

While Malaysian universities issuing degrees are under the purview of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), "there is no law available to stop individual Malaysian citizens printing out a degree from a degree mill and using it to hang on his wall at home". That was actually a quote from Tan Sri Shahidan Kassim back then.

While I congratulate the government on passing the Child Offences Act last week, we need Parliament to do more to make the issuing and use of fake degrees and certificates punishable by law.

This requires a new law – which is why I wrote a column asking for longer parliamentary sessions. Parliament needs to have longer sessions to formulate more laws to combat the multiple new scenarios plaguing our country, yet it has been lagging.

It has been four years since the bringing up of the topic regarding Malaysians claiming prominence using bogus degrees, and yet nothing has been done by the authorities to actually curb or address this issue.

Consequently, Malaysians on the ground – particularly those watching national television, reading newspapers, and listening to our radio stations – continue to be conned by those marketing treatments, products, and financial schemes due to their naivety and the lack of protection under the law.

And as much as we can cry out buyer beware, or caveat emptor, the government needs to take stern action against those involved in fraud using fake medical chits, degrees, safety certificates and even datukships.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com