Muhammad Azhar: Up to old tricks, or merely an honest mistake?

REMEMBER the Malaysian who announced on Twitter that NASA offered him a scholarship and named him as one of their Citizen Scientists for scoring in the top 1% of their Artemis Student Challenge Programme, only for netizens to expose him for lying about the entire thing?

Well, after a long bout of silence, Azhar Ali – now going by the name Muhammad Azhar – has resurfaced on the internet when International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz introduced him on social media as a Perdana Fellow.

The Perdana Fellow Programme or Perdana Fellowship, as defined in the Perdana Fellows Alumni Association website, is a “prestigious programme established by the Youth and Sports Ministry to provide young Malaysians a first-hand experience in matters of national governance.”

Under this programme, Perdana Fellows are placed under the purview of ministers of various ministries to assist in the highest form of governance.

According to the poster shared by Tengku Zafrul, Azhar was a Universiti Malaya (UM) graduate who majored in Electronics and Communications Engineering.

He also listed his notable “achievements” including being the Champion of the WorldQuant Brain 2022 Global Alphathon, the Best Delegate of the Bank Negara Fiscal Policy Summit 2021, and the runner-up of the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2021.

Netizens were, however, quick to point out that UM does offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering (BEE) although it does not offer a major in Electronics and Communications Engineering which Azhar supposedly took, leading to netizens speculating that Azhar had falsified his credentials.

Eagle-eyed netizens also noted that “communications” was also misspelt in the poster.

However, The Rakyat Post reported that the degree on the infographic may have been wrongly worded as Azhar was listed as having a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering in the official press release by the Youth and Sports Ministry.

It was also reported that with regards to Azhar’s claim that he is a runner-up in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2021, further digging found that the winner that year was a group from Kenya, and that the other teams that had made it to the final round were from Thailand, New Zealand and the United States.

Microsoft’s official website further indicated that only four other teams representing Asia had qualified in the cup’s top 12, namely China, India, Nepal and New Zealand.

As for being the champion of the WorldQuant Brain 2022 Global Alphathon, internet sleuths also found out that the champion of the 2022 edition of the alphathon was Trinh Nguyen from Vietnam.

No authority to conduct background checks

In response to allegations that Azhar had falsified his credentials, Perdana Fellows Alumni Association (PFAA) president Syed Mohamed Arif Syed Abdul Rahim had released a statement today (Sept 13) expressing concerns over recent allegations that “an individual selected as a Perdana Fellow, Batch 11, Year 2023” is suspected of “misrepresenting his qualifications and achievements”.

In the statement, Syed Mohamed Arif clarified that the association does not possess the authority to conduct background checks on the applicants during the selection process.

“The primary purpose of the association is to function as a community for the programme’s alumni, and thus, foster continuous engagement and development,” he added.

With regard to the allegations, Syed Mohamed Arif also noted that the association had submitted an official letter to the relevant authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. – Sept 13, 2023

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