KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 5 – Claims that the Pakatan Harapan government is no different to the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) regime seemed to have hit a new high today when it was revealed that Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik had been appointed president of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).
The appointment was revealed in a Facebook post by the IIUM academic staff association congratulating Maszlee on his recent appointment.
Two of Maszlee’s fellow Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) leaders were quick to downplay the appointment, saying PKR President Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was also IIUM president while serving as education minister back when he was with Umno-BN.
PPBM chief strategist Rais Hussin also told Malay Mail Online that IIUM was in need of urgent and comprehensive revamp and Maszlee, a former academic, was just the man to undertake the job.
“IIUM needs drastic change. Real change. Credible change. Some exception sometimes is all right,” Rais was quoted as saying.
Asked if the appointment went against PH’s GE14 manifesto to ensure greater independence from political influence at institutions of higher learning, Rais said: “The manifesto is in two parts. The second part of the manifesto comes with a five- year timeline to deliver. So we have up to five years.”
Royal decree in Maszlee’s appointment
Meanwhile, in a report by The Star, PPBM deputy chief strategist Wan Saiful Wan Jan said that the appointment was made by royal decree.
“YB Dr Maszlee’s appointment was made by Tuanku Sultan Pahang as the constitutional head of IIUM.
“This shows the Sultan’s wisdom in making his choice, picking someone who knows the university inside out over and above everything else,” he told the daily.
Critical task of improving standard of education
Both men, however, failed to address the issue of how Maszlee would be committed to IIUM while still holding the more critical task of ensuring the education ministry runs smoothly, especially after the promises made before and after the recent general election on improving the standard of education in the country.
Surprisingly, from among other PH component parties, there has been only one response.
In a statement, Selangor state assemblywoman for Kampung Tunku Lim Yi Wei, who is a state DAP youth leader, expressed her disappointment at the PPBM leader’s appointment by IIUM.
“The Pakatan Harapan manifesto promised the restoration of authority and independence of public universities and institutions of higher learning.
“While as an academic, Dr Maszlee holds the right credentials for the post. As the highest-ranked politician in the Education Ministry, holding the highest position in a university is a clear conflict of interest,” she said.
Umno against appointment
Umno has been rather muted too in its criticism, with Kepala Batas MP Reezal Merican Naina Merican and former Johor MB Khaled Nordin questioning the appointment.
“Upon scrutiny, it would appear the appointment contradicts his commitment to free universities from political interference,” Reezal, an Umno supreme council member, said in a statement today.
Reezal pointed out that Maszlee’s current portfolio as education minister also meant that the latter already has a lot on his plate.
“Maszlee has the potential to reform the national education system if he is not distracted by additional responsibilities.
“We hope that he can focus on his current duties and not try to justify the rationale of accepting the appointment as the new IIUM president,” he said.
This view was echoed by Khaled, an Umno vice-president, who asked if the education minister was interested to protect the interests of IIUM only.
“Why is the minister showing his favour to one university only? And has he got so much free time to take care of the university?” he said in a message on Twitter.
Maszlee contradicting himself?
The most damning judgement on Maszlee’s appointment may have come from the minister himself as The Malaysian Insider (TMI) reported that “he promised not to appoint vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors from his own party, Bersatu.”
TMI also reported on 31 July that three members of the Universiti Malaya board of directors have had their services terminated effective today as Putrajaya ramps up its effort to remove political appointees to university administrations.
Following the news, MalaysiaKini reported on 1 Aug that Maszlee said that those terminated were political appointees.
He was also quoted in an interview with the New Straits Times in June that he would “never misuse universities for political interests and promised universities full autonomy and academic freedom”.