Competence and academic qualifications are not one and the same. There are many competent people who have no formal certificates, just as there are those who if anything are over-certified, but are nevertheless quite incompetent in their field. That said, of course, in a specialised world where employers need to make quick initial assessments of the suitability of a candidate, then a diploma, degree or something of that ilk gives an indication that the person has successfully undergone the level of training necessary for the job. After all, no one wants to be operated on by a surgeon who is unqualified, or flown by an aircraft pilot who has not passed the exams required.

But not all areas of human endeavour demand quite such specific formal credentials, and the field of politics falls into that category. After all, one of Guyana’s foremost politicians trained in dentistry, and no one ever suggested that that was a study essential to the discharge of a government official’s duties. Furthermore, many of Guyana’s politicians have been lawyers, a background which one might have thought harmonised well with government service. However, some of Guyana’s lawyer-politicians have been open to serious charges or in other cases, have been subject to significant criticism in relation to how they have functioned. In short, paper qualifications will often be no guide to how a man or woman will perform in office.

And so we have presidential hopeful, Mr Irfaan Ali of the PPP, who finds himself under scrutiny over his academic credentials. Now it so happens that Mr Ali doesn’t need any degrees in order to persuade the public to vote for him; they know him already, since he was housing minister in two PPP/C administrations, the first under Mr Bharrat Jagdeo and the second under Mr Donald Ramotar. He will simply be judged on his record.

But Mr Ali, it seems, would like to publicise his academic achievements, and as we reported recently he showed Stabroek News four certificates. One of them was from City Unity College, based in Athens, Greece, where he said he earned a Diploma in Business Administration, after completing an online professional course in 2002.

Mr Ali also informed this newspaper that in January 2003 he was awarded a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Planning and Development from the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi, India. A third certificate, this time from the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom, was awarded to Mr Ali in September 2006, he said. That certificate states that “Mohammed Ali” was awarded the Bachelor of Arts Second Class Honours (Second Division) in Business Management.

The fourth certificate was a Postgraduate Certificate in Finance from the Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), which he said he was given in February 2018. We reported Mr Ali as going on to say that he was simultaneously pursing a doctorate from the University of the West Indies (UWI), which he started “around five years ago” at the same time he was studying for the finance degree from ARU. He told Stabroek News he had completed his research for the doctoral programme but was awaiting word from UWI to defend it.

In the meantime, he informed the newspaper that he was currently studying at the University of Salford, Manchester, to earn an LLM degree in International Commercial Law.

Now all of this under normal circumstances would no doubt do Mr Ali much credit for his diligence, more especially since he held various government posts prior to 2009, when he became housing minister. If his recollection of “around five years ago” is correct, then he would have begun his work for a doctorate when he was still a minister as well as when he was still studying for the degree from ARU. This is hardly a course of action to be recommended if one takes one’s ministerial work seriously.

But that is not the real problem. Rather it is the fact that Mr Ali has so far been unable to provide evidence that the Chamber Business School on the West Bank of Demerara which provided him with the transcript which allowed him entry to the Guru Gobind Indraprastha University in India was ever accredited here. The transcript was provided by Mr Joshua Safeek, a businessman, who issued a statement saying that the Chamber Business School Certificate No.61001 was registered on the 10th January 2001. He also said that he was the first Chairman of the West Demerara Essequibo and Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc from 2000-04 which set up the school.

However, when Stabroek News checked with the National Accreditation Council, there was no record of the school. This newspaper also visited the West Coast of Demerara, but as we reported, hours of searches and enquiries could find no evidence of the Chamber Business School. None of persons in the homes or business places visited from Vreed-en-Hoop to Tuschen had heard of the school and some older residents laughed when asked about it.

And as for Mr Ali himself, when confronted about whether the Chamber Business School was accredited, he declined to answer. Furthermore he claimed that all his transcripts and certificates were available on his Facebook page, and that he had no further comment. The problem is that they are not on his Facebook page. We also reported that when he was pressed to answer what the baseline qualification was that he had used for admission to the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, he refused to answer and became flustered, repeating that he had made all his qualifications public.

An exercise in damage control during the course of a press conference moderated by Mr Kwame McCoy, did not produce greater enlightenment. Mr McCoy would not allow Mr Ali to be further questioned on the matter, and we quoted him as saying, “Excuse me, Mr Ali has answered the question in the way he wishes to answer. I will now ask us to move on.”

Apart from Mr Joshua Safeek, Mr Ali has had other defenders, more particularly former PPP/C Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul, who in a letter to this newspaper at the beginning of this year maintained that “Mr. Ali was fully qualified and had the requisite skills and experience for his Master’s Degree programme.” Unfortunately, however, Dr Gopaul was not of a mind to divulge precisely what those were.

If Mr Ali were just a private citizen then all of this would be of no consequence to the public at large, but he is not; he is a man who is seeking the highest office in the land. It is an office, as said above, which does not require academic credentials, but does require credentials of another kind. Foremost among those, as Dr David Hinds has already pointed out, are integrity and honesty, and Mr Ali’s responses ever since his qualifications were first queried by Prime News and Kaieteur News in January this year can only be described as evasive.

At this stage in our evolution we should be looking for senior politicians, and particularly heads of state, who are persons of principle and who seek to introduce ethical standards to the conduct of our sadly corrupted governmental affairs. Mr Ali does not appear to understand what is required of anyone putting themselves forward as a potential president, or that the issue will not go away if he does not address it with more transparency than he has done to date. He needs to level with the electorate, and be frank if there is some problem which he should disclose. Voters will have more respect for him if he does that, than if he continues on his current tack.

Mr Ali told this newspaper that he stood by all his certificates, and that he did not wish to “dwell” on the allegations. That really isn’t good enough. If he wants to be taken seriously then it is his duty to answer the allegations.

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