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Govt launches crackdown on academic fraud

By Nokuthaba Nkomo

The country’s education system is battling to preserve its integrity in the wake of an upsurge in academic fraudsters who are forging qualifications to secure jobs and gain admission into institutions of higher learning.

Grace Mugabe and Levi Nyagura
Grace Mugabe and Levi Nyagura

Investigations by the Daily News on Sunday revealed that the cases of academic dishonesty that have been unearthed so far are just a tip of the iceberg because of the absence of robust vetting processes in most institutions.

Human resource experts said the malpractices are getting worse due to stiff competition for jobs and places in top schools where higher grades matter.

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They said the crudest form of academic fraud has been the counterfeiting or purchasing of downright forged certificates, diplomas and degrees.

Only recently, the United States embassy in Harare was shocked to discover that at least 30 out of 40 people who had applied for visas had used fake education documents.

The case offers a peak into a thriving underground economy of cheating services.

The problem is an urgent one.

From an institutional perspective, the ramifications of failure to address fraud and corrupt practices are severe.

Experts say the employment of individuals with bogus credentials can be a public relations fiasco for both private companies and government. Fraud and corruption in education is largely manifesting itself in the issuance of counterfeit academic qualifications to gain admission into education programmes and jobs. This comes as news of leaked exam questions and other forms of test-related fraud are now commonplace in Zimbabwe.

Government has been forced to swing into action to crack down on the leaking of high school examination questions by corrupt educators.

Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) spokesperson Nicolette Dhlamini told the Daily News on Sunday that the examinations body has been on a nationwide verification of academic credentials with employers, uncovering a shocking number of workers with forged school and college certificates.

Dhlamini said this problem has always been in existence but more cases emerged this year. She said the examinations body was always on the lookout for forgery, but said there is not much they can do to stop the crime because they only depend on organisations or schools to bring documents for authentication.

“I can confirm that we have caught several people forging certificates, but as Zimsec, there is nothing much we can do to catch the culprits except waiting on organisations to send in their certificates for verification,” she said.

Dhlamini noted that Zimsec, in an effort to curb the increase of this crime, has been working with the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

“In terms of finding the root cause of the problem, where those certificates are faked, we count on the law enforcement to get to the bottom of those issues,” she said.

Most of these fraudsters reportedly get away with the crime for years before they get caught. The schools examinations body was forced last year to annul the graduation exam results of November 2017 Ordinary Level English Paper 2 public examination participating students due to “examination malpractices” — an incident that was due to lead to the de-certification of corruption-plagued schools.

The High Court later granted an order nullifying the rewrite of the public examination that had been scheduled and ordered that the overall results be based solely on English Paper 1.

This comes as examinations fraud has become a lucrative business for underground crime groups. Rampant fraud, meanwhile, has caused the government to transport national high school exam questions in trucks under guard of the elite unit of the police. 

The crackdown on fake degree, diploma and certificates holders comes as another purge is underway, with many hauled before the courts.

Anyone who knowingly uses a fraudulent, non-government document can face a jail term. Among those who have attempted to cheat their way to success is an aspiring nurse who was arrested in October this year after she reportedly submitted forged ‘‘O’’ Level results, intending to be enrolled as a student nurse at Harare Central Hospital.

Agnes Dhliwayo, who was meant to be in the institution’s Group C 2018 nursing programme, confessed to falsifying her ‘‘O’’ Level certificate with the help of an unnamed Zimsec officials in 2015. 

The hospital got confirmation from Zimsec on her fake document.

Dhliwayo had attained four ‘‘O’’ Level results in different sittings, but reportedly paid a Zimsec official, whose identity was not revealed, to help her illegally combine them into one. In 2015 she is said to have paid a total of $500 between December and February 2016 to the Zimsec official, whom she claimed not to know. 

Dhliwayo was arrested and brought before the courts where she was sentenced to six months in prison.

In June this year, a Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals nurse who used a fake ‘‘O’’ Level certificate to get employment was slapped with a 15-month prison sentence.

Elizabeth Kalenga, 26, pleaded with Harare magistrate Nyasha Vhitorini to spare her the jail term, saying she was a mother of two minor children.

Her pleas, however, could not find favour with the court, which only suspended five months on condition of good behaviour.

It was the State case that sometime in May 2016; Parirenyatwa School of Nursing advertised in newspapers that they wanted to recruit trainee nurses.

The posts required candidates to have five ‘‘O’’ Level passes with grade C or better and including English Language and a Science subject.

Kalenga submitted a fake ‘‘O’’ Level certificate with seven passes, bearing candidate number 010400/3082 to Parirenyatwa School of Nursing to secure admission as a trainee nurse.

The hospital acted on the misrepresentation and enrolled Kalenga as a trainee registered nurse.

However, she ran out of luck after a team of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption got wind that she was using fake certificates, leading to her arrest.

In February this year, another Harare woman was also jailed for four months for using a fake ‘‘O’’ Level certificate after working as an insurance agent at First 
Mutual for 11 years.

Harare magistrate Josephine Sande jailed Abigail Mhizha, 45, for contravening the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council Act.

One month was suspended on condition Mhizha deposits $100 fine, while the remaining three months were shelved on condition of good behaviour.

Mhizha again pleaded with the court saying she was a single parent of four who worked hard at First Mutual and even attained awards.

In October 26, 2006, Mhizha submitted an ‘‘O’’ Level certificate number Z1173-354 to First Mutual Holdings Limited to secure employment as an insurance agent.

During Mhizha’s tenure of office, the human resources department at First Mutual queried the authenticity of her qualifications and asked her to resubmit her certificates.

In February 2017, a former student at Oriel Boys High School forged an ‘‘O’’ Level certificate and attempted to use it to gain admission for lower six at Goromonzi High School.

He was slapped with a four-month wholly suspended prison term.

Dick Chikadza of Ruwa was convicted on charges of presenting a forged certificate to a prospective employer or a learning institution with intent to gain employment or admission.

In January 2014, a Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals nurse Caroline Hwata forged an ‘‘O’’ Level certificate and used it to acquire a nursing diploma and employment at the health institution.

Mahwata was initially sentenced to eight months in prison, while four months were suspended on condition of good behaviour. The other four months were suspended on condition that she was to perform 140 hours of community service.

There has been widespread speculation that former first lady Grace Mugabe was fraudulently awarded a doctorate by the University of Zimbabwe.

The university’s vice chancellor Levi Nyagura is standing trial over Grace’s PhD thesis, after an anti-corruption watchdog probed whether the wife of ousted president Robert Mugabe was wrongly awarded a doctorate four years ago.

And yet, accounts of persons being employed in critical positions based on fake degrees surface regularly in the news. Daily News