• Mystery abounds on whether portal created to verify qualifications is helping
Just when Kenyans thought the problem of fake academic certificates was under control, official revelations show that the rot is more prevalent than previously thought. Unless something is done to address the mess, there is a danger of academic certificates in Kenya losing credibility.
So serious is the problem that government agencies and state corporations have been verifying the academic certificates of employees, especially those recruited since 2012. Government workers found to have presented fake certificates for recruitment or promotion are to be dismissed from service.
In recent times, public service employees who were found with fake papers were fired, sentenced to prison and ordered to refund all monies received in salaries and allowances from the date they were recruited. The amounts of money could easily run into the millions of shillings for each culprit.
"There are many employees with questionable academic certificates," Twalib Mbarak, CEO of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), said on December 9 in remarks that stunned the country.
Mbarak warned that the issue of fake certificates on the loose in the country is real and efforts must be made to find a lasting solution and to bring the criminals to justice.
"If you arrest one criminal, nine are on the loose," Mbarak revealed at a ceremony marking the World Day against Corruption.
There are many employees with questionable academic certificatesTwalib Mbarak
EMPLOYERS TOLERATE CHEATING
EACC deputy CEO Abdi Mohamud told MPs in July that some employers are fully aware they are hiring and promoting employees with fake certificates.
"Employers, universities and colleges bear significant blame for the forgery of academic certificates in public service,” he said.
He advised employers to carry out sufficient background checks on academic certificates submitted by job seekers and employees seeking promotion.
As of October, EACC was investigating 172 cases involving alleged forgery of academic certificates. EACC spokesperson Eric Ngumbi told NTV that among those under investigation are several senior persons in the public service who are alleged to have fake degrees, diplomas and KCSE academic certificates.
In 2021, the then director-general of the Kenya National Qualifications Authority said a third of all academic certificates in Kenya are fake. He blamed the prevalence of fake papers on the lack of a central database for verifying academic certificates.
“It's unfortunate for some people to get employed knowing well they are not qualified," Dr Juma Mukhwana said at the time. Mukhwana is currently the PS in the State Department of Industry.
Though fake academic papers have been a long-running problem, it is not clear what actions have been taken to eradicate the vice. Employers often have no means of checking whether the academic certificates presented at job interviews are genuine papers.
There is, of course, the possibility of writing to the respective academic institutions, seeking confirmation on the authenticity of certificates, but that would be a very expensive undertaking because each recruitment attracts thousands of job applications. This is why a central database would be of great help in weeding out academic cheats.
As far back as 2009, at least 200 Kenyans were found to have presented fake academic certificates while applying for jobs at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania. If the fraud had not been detected, some of those individuals would have been employed as lecturers and professors! The university had invited job applications from both local and foreign academics.
Tanzania also provides an example of what could happen to public service employees following mass verification of academic papers. In 2017, then Tanzania President John Magufuli authorised the dismissal of 9,900 civil servants from duty after they were allegedly found with fake certificates.
Why do people risk obtaining fake certificates instead of actually doing a course? After all, there is no shortage of training institutions, is there?
Academic certificates open the way to well-paying jobs. The higher your academic qualifications, the better your prospects of securing employment. Someone with a university degree stands a much better chance of getting a job compared to someone else who only has a secondary school leaving certificate.
For people already in employment, an additional academic or technical qualification improves their prospects for promotion. A promotion does not just result in a salary increase; it may come with fringe benefits, such as an employer-provided car, access to house loans, opportunities for foreign travel and entry into members-only clubs.
Formal organisations have very specific lists of qualifications for persons interested in various positions. Organisations in technical sectors often require that a CEO be a registered engineer. Institutions in the financial sector will demand that senior managers have at least a qualification in finance or law. It is now generally accepted that the minimum qualification for a managerial position in the formal sector is a Master's degree.
Academic qualifications are necessary for those interested in political office. In Kenya, citizens wishing to become candidates in the presidential election or county governors must have a university degree. The same requirement holds for the Deputy President and deputy governors. Persons interested in becoming MPs and MCAs are required to have at least a secondary school certificate.
Considering all the benefits that come with higher education, it should not be surprising that some people want qualifications without working for them. Sitting in classrooms for several years, preparing for examinations every few months and carrying out research projects is hard work, hence the temptation to take shortcuts.
In response to calls for a centralised database to verify academic qualifications, the Kenya National Qualifications Authority launched a portal through which educational certificates can be uploaded for verification. Details remain scanty as to how many fake academic certificates have been detected through the “Cheti Mwitu” portal.