On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

What’s up, doc?

The snag is that most may not have earned their titles academically. While a number may have had theirs conferred by universities for contributions in various fields, there is suspicion that others could have paid for such titles.

Even if these honorary degrees were properly awarded, the protocol requirement is that the abbreviation must be in bracket, for example, Datuk (Dr) ABC and not Datuk Dr ABC as in the case of medical practitioners or those with a PhD.

Seriously, if one is a successful businessman with a good reputation and track record, there is really no need for an honorary degree to be displayed on one’s call card.

Accept these honorary degrees by all means but don’t pay for them, especially if they are from some obscure universities that are aggressively marketed online.

If one has all the credentials from the University of Hard Knocks, even without a tertiary education, society would respect that person more. Many people, especially older businessmen, may not have university degrees due to economic circumstances and also because there were fewer universities in Malaysia in the past. Many were eager to venture into business after leaving school and did not want to be salaried workers.

Whatever the reasons, tycoons like Tan Sri Vincent Tan and Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary never went to universities. And they certainly do not need a “Dr” prefix to go with their names. Both are so confident of themselves that they enjoy telling their listeners about their humble background – how they became successful by starting from the bottom.

The legendary Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple and changed our lives with his inventions, dropped out of university but created an empire.

I am not saying that a tertiary education isn’t important but doctorates, the highest level in the academic apex, must be earned. In short, respect cannot be purchased.

It is nauseating when feng shui practitioners and astrologers unashamedly call themselves “Reverend Professor” when they do not even have formal religious nor academic qualifications.

Many Malaysians believe that being titled in this country helps. In many ways, it is true, especially in dealings with government officials. Feudalistic as it may sound, these titles are often taken into account in seating arrangements at official functions.

Most Malaysians, however, now feel that such titles are in danger of losing their prestige. Some would even say the shine has long gone.

In 2009, it was reported that a Datuk Koay Khay Chye and five others were charged in Penang with trafficking 300kg of Erimin pills worth RM20mil. He had five previous convictions for theft, firearms offences and corruption but retained his Datukship.

The public is left wondering where he received his Datukship. Didn’t the state which conferred him the title carry out any vetting with the police and Bank Negara?

In the case of Selangor, the palace carries out strict checks before titles are conferred and a website has even been set up for the public to check.

In another case, a personality who called himself a Datuk Setia became high profile following a trade organisation leadership fight. He told members that he was a Datuk from Selangor. Checks made with the palace secretariat, however, revealed he had never received any state awards, not even a PJK.

There must be ways to prevent dubious characters from making such claims. I believe it is a crime. The Conference of Rulers should make a decision to set up websites, similar to the one set up by Selangor, where the public can scrutinise the list of awards recipients.

All states should stipulate in their state constitution the maximum number of Datukships and other awards that would be given out each year. There must even be an age requirement.

The situation has become so bad that there are perceptions, even allegations, that such awards can be purchased in one or two states. It does not make sense that over a hundred people get Datukship from one particular state every year.

More often than not, these recipients do not have strong credentials, besides being just businessmen. Yes, I know businessmen create jobs and help increase the country’s revenue, and the congratulatory advertisements help newspapers earn money. But contributions to the state and country must go beyond that.