Education, as Nelson Mandela best described it, is the most potent weapon that can change the world. Thus, the need to provide quality education with appropriate inspection and control systems is crucial. And one of the mechanisms of doing this is tackling the prevalence of fake documents.
For we are now living in what is called the information age, the sources and production of information are beyond our grasp. Thus, coupled with the influx of information and the increasingly shorter attention-spans of modern society, we are forced to overlook critical national agendas. The absence of investigative journalism should also be held accountable here.
Recently, the issue of individuals employed in the various public institutions using fake documents was brought into the media spotlight. The campaign to root the individuals out was intensified. But, like all other campaigns in the country, the source of the problem remains unaddressed.
The Ministry of Public Service & Human Resource Development made it public that, in a nationwide survey that was conducted, individuals with a claim to various governmental positions were employed as a result of fake documents. The Ministry did not only expose them but also appealed to the concerned party to take the necessary legal actions against the criminals.
The Addis Abeba City Administration also announced that it has started taking measures against those involved in fraudulent activities. The legal action ranges from being discharged from a job to sentencing the culpable. Likewise, the Amhara and Oromia regional states have also announced that they would take similar steps within their administrative boundaries.
However, due to lack of transparency and an active media, we have not been informed as to how such a problem could have reached the level it has without our knowledge.
Had we been able to learn from past experiences, the daylight robbery may not have reached such magnitude. It is a pity that we did not take any lessons from the infamous case of the self-acclaimed engineer, Samuel Zemichael.
The fact that academicians of our country were unable to recognise him leaves a question mark over their judgment. Such a person must lack the genuine self-confidence that comes from being knowledgeable, or at least in how he presents himself.
A degree is a valuable certification. Falsifying it then could conceivably cause damage to the socioeconomic structure of a nation. And that perhaps is evident, but the extent of the consequence could be immeasurable where high-ranking officials commit such a crime.
And it seems that the issue is not confined to official documents related to higher learning institutions only. There is a similar distressing problem with fake driving licences, certificate of conformity and work experience.
It has been well-documented that traffic accidents are major causes of death in Ethiopia; it is then unimaginable how much fake licenses could exacerbate the issue. The construction sector is also one of the victims of forgery; consequently, it got to the point where the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing & Construction had to impose a temporary ban on the issuance of licenses.
I was reading on Arab News the other day about an Indian who forged his documents to pose as a doctor. And in treating low-income villagers for colds, coughs and diarrhoea, he infected at least 21 of them with HIV by using contaminated syringes and needles. Time and again, we hear of rumors of patients dying due to inappropriate treatment and negligence. But there is little evidence that they are facing legal repercussions.
The issue of fake documentation is a global problem, as is stressed in pieces for The Express Tribune. In a single raid, Saudi authorities would seize hundreds of counterfeit master’s and doctorate degrees, about to be sold in Pakistan. Worryingly, the report suggested that this was after thousands of fake documents had already been sold.
It was a moment of shame for Pakistan. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) at some point shocked the country by confirming that the University of Monticello in the United States, where one of the nation’s ministers received his PhD from, is not accredited. It did not end there, with the Commission also declaring the degrees of at least 30 parliamentarians fake.
The proliferation of fake document holders, thus, could spell disaster. The consequences for anyone caught supplying counterfeit degrees and claiming real ones without the genuine qualification may lead to legal action. It is not only the counterfeiters who pay the price, but the society at large. They are harming and slowing down the development of the country.
Thus, as much as they are obsessed with quantitative measurements of universities and student enrolments numbers, the government should do more to tackle the issue of fake documentation in the country. One of the mechanisms to control the counterfeiters is to create a transparent bureaucracy capable enough to assume responsibility and take the necessary legal measures against the culprits.
The media should also play a role by being more investigative and reporting in length on such unfolding cases.
Otherwise, as a piece on The Guardian reads, “faking an academic qualification is like carrying a ticking time bomb with no idea of when it could go off. It could happen when you claim the qualification for the first time, or it might take years before it explodes in your face – taking your riches and your reputation with it.”
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