Does Rosmah deserve the Curtin award?

“I am a Malaysian and I’m incensed by the award. Would any Australian be happy if a foreign university awarded [Australian prime minister] Julia Gillard’s partner for creating day-care centres around Australia with taxpayers’ money?”

Kee Thuan Chye

It must be sad for the prime minister’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, that for receiving an honorary doctorate from a foreign university, she got so much flak.

The university that awarded it, Curtin University of Western Australia, was hit with brickbats too, judging by the strongly-worded postings on its Facebook page after the award was announced. Curtin was probably astonished by the reception.

NONEAs one commentor wrote:

“Curtin dear, you didn’t anticipate these at all, did you?”

The postings were so many and so fast and furious that Curtin removed some of them. And justified it thus:

“Thanks for your feedback around one of our recent awards. We are as always supportive of free expression but have removed some postings as they’re repeats.”

Why is there so much negative reaction to Rosmah’s getting the honorary doctorate?

The answer to that might well lie in the answer to another question: Does she actually deserve the award?

According to the media release sent out by Curtin, it is to recognise her “for her dedication to education and the advancement of women”.

It adds: “She has devoted herself to community life, becoming the driving force behind the Permata project, which focuses on early childhood education and care for Malaysian children aged under five.”

Nowhere in the release, however, is there an example given of how she has contributed to “the advancement of women”.

In any case, the university must have been misinformed or failed to understand the implications of Rosmah’s involvement in Permata.

It’s taxpayers’ money

As the prime minister’s wife, she needed a project to give her a high profile, so she’s latched on to Permata.

NONEBut it has been the people’s money that is giving her this boost. In the 2010 Budget, her husband, the prime minister, allocated RM100 million to Permata, which at the time seemed a huge amount, and bigger in comparison to some other allocations.

Then in the 2011 Budget, her husband increased the allocation to Permata to RM111 million, causing many to wonder if he hadn’t abused his powers.

One commentor on the Curtin Facebook page rubbed it in: “With due respect, the money she is using is taxpayers’ money, not from her own pocket. If she has done a service for ‘early childhood education’, what about the half-dozen other unrecognised Malaysians who have done far more? Sorry, but this award absolutely stinks.”

Another commentor invoked an apt comparison: “I am a Malaysian and I’m incensed by the award. Would any Australian be happy if a foreign university awarded [Australian prime minister] Julia Gillard’s partner for creating day-care centres around Australia with taxpayers’ money?”

The odd thing is, these criticisms are coming from ordinary Malaysians, so Rosmah can’t say that they are politically motivated or generated by people who are jealous of her “achievements”.

Odder still is the vitriol that accompanies many of these criticisms, which shows the level of respect – or is it disrespect? – the critics have for the prime minister’s wife.

Numerous people wanted to know how much she paid for the award.

Understandably, the ones who felt most hard done by were alumni of the university. Some said they felt embarrassed. Some said they would not hang their Curtin certificate on the wall any more.

One alumnus lashed out: “Who is Rosmah? After all the three years of hardship I went through to earn a Bachelor of Commerce from CBS [presumably Curtin Business School], now she gets the award just like that? Disgusting Curtin. I will never send my children to Curtin although I graduated from there.”

Another alumnus ran down Rosmah and lambasted his alma mater: “This honorary doctorate for Rosmah is a debacle. Shame on me for holding a Curtin degree. Shame on Curtin for ruining its reputation. As we Malaysians would say, ‘jatuh standard’.”

Someone wrote: “Pity all the hardworking PhDs of Curtin for being ranked with Rosmah now. How do you term it in the property market? … Total market depreciation?”

Why such disrespect for PM’s wife?

Why is Rosmah so lacking in respect? Why are people saying bad things about her?

NONEMalaysians are not noted to say bad things about the wives of past prime ministers – at least not in public. None of her predecessors have been bashed like this. So why Rosmah?

Is it because of her alleged spending sprees? Does Curtin know about the evidence Australian fashion journalist Patty Huntington has provided regarding Rosmah’s alleged purchase of 61 dresses from Australian designer Carl Kapp?

Is it because of her alleged attempt to buy a RM24 million diamond ring last year? Is it because of the thousands of ringgit she allegedly spends buying her range of Hermes handbags?

Is it because of the advertisement that was placed in the New York Times on behalf of the Malaysian government when she and her husband visited the United States in 2010 in which she was congratulated for having won a little-known international award, an advertisement that allegedly cost about three quarters of a million ringgit?

NONEIs it because of her being allegedly involved in government affairs, including allegedly having her own division in the Prime Minister’s Office called FLOM (First Lady of Malaysia)?

And that she even attended the highly confidential meeting between the prime minister and his top aides in the Finance Ministry to discuss the final preparations for the 2012 Budget although she had no business being there?

Is it because of blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin’s statutory declaration made in 2008 that he had been “reliably informed” that Rosmah was among a few people present when the Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu’s body was C4ed?

Is it more than all these?

Curtin defends the award

In any case, all these are irrelevant to Curtin. As the university has just clarified (on Feb 15) in a note put out on Facebook in defense of its award:

“In the case of the nomination of Datin Sri (sic) Rosmah, while the university became aware of some critical commentary in relation to the awardee, the allegations against her do not appear to have been substantiated.

“When the nomination was considered, her contribution to early childhood education and the advancement of women was considered worthy of recognition and so the award was approved.”

It also spelt out how the awarding of honorary doctorates is decided.

The first response to that post – from a Malaysian – was: “What a load of crock! There are a lot more worthy candidates out there.”

Others found the explanation vague, disappointing and unsubstantiated. Someone asked who the other candidates were and who nominated Rosmah as one.

So there! Curtin University doesn’t mind awarding a doctorate to someone who might be dogged by negative controversy.

Well, that’s its own business. Back home, Rosmah might want to ask herself why so many Malaysians have such a low opinion of her – since these are the people who should matter more to her than any foreign university or organisation giving her awards.

She might want to be honest with herself when she evaluates comments such as these:

“If this lady was well-respected in the country, she would be receiving praise and perceived as deserving of the doctorate. As you can see, there is anger instead.”

“They gave her a doctorate. LOL. Of all the people in Malaysia.”

If she ever figures out why so many Malaysians have such a low opinion of her, she might want to do something to make herself better regarded.

Notice, however, that I did not say “loved”. I did not even say “liked”. And for her sake, I hope it’s not already too late.