Inside the fake academic papers menace that is eroding trust

EACC is investigating 161 cases on falsification of academic documents by state officers. [iStockphoto]

High-ranking government officials are among persons who used forged academic papers to secure employment and promotion, an audit in the public service revealed.     

The Standard has established that those under the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) microscope are a governor, an MP and a managing director of a state agency.

EACC is investigating 161 cases on falsification of academic documents by state officers.

Details from the commission show that six cases have so far gone to convictions, some 20 cases are still pending before court while investigations into another eight has been finalised.

The anti-graft agency has recovered salaries amounting to Sh12,811,386 from falsification of academic documents holders.

According to EACC’s audit on fake academic papers, the oldest case stems back to 2016, and is against Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi.

The three-term lawmaker is being tried before a Nairobi magistrate for forging his academic papers.

According to the case file, the legislator took plea on the case on October 6, 2016.

In documents before Milimani High Court, Mr Sudi allegedly forged a diploma certificate in business management from the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM).

Sudi is also accused of forging a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) certificate and a school leaving certificate from Highway Secondary School.

Despite the case dragging for years, its end could be in sight after the only remaining witness, the Investigating Officer, took the stand in December.

In his testimony, Investigating Officer Derrick Juma told trial Magistrate Felix Kombo that he visited all the schools Sudi claimed to have attended and interviewed the head teachers.

Mr Juma said that Sudi’s name was not listed as a student at any of the schools, except for a primary school in Eldoret.

“The only records we found of him being a student was at Luok Ngetuny Primary School where the teachers confirmed that he enrolled in 1995 under the name Kipchumba Kipng’etich, but that he exited the school at Standard Seven,” said Juma.

For Turkana Governor Jeremiah Loromukai, EACC is yet to formally charge him over alleged forgery of academic papers.

The governor allegedly acquired his university degree and diploma in counselling fraudulently from Kenya Methodist University (Kemu).

The commission wrote to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that Kemu had revoked the governor’s degree. 

Loromukai was cleared to run after filing a constitutional petition, in which orders had been granted that Kemu had not revoked his degree certificate. 

However, in October 2022, the governor, went to court seeking anticipatory bail and seeking to block EACC from arresting and charging him.

In his ruling in January 2023, Justice R. Nyakundi of the Eldoret High Court dismissed the application.

However, the commission is yet to arrest Loromukai one year on.

Court battles

Despite the sluggish progress of high profile cases, the question whether elected leaders need university education has time and again been subject of court battles.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi, too, was caught in the fake papers claim.

Linturi however won the court case against the University of Nairobi for cancelling his degree certificate.

The then High Court judge George Odunga found that UoN did not give him a chance to defend himself.

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja also had his fair share of troubles over the legitimacy of his academic papers.

Last year, the High Court dismissed a case challenging Sakaja’s candidature over his academic papers.

Justice Anthony Mrima found that there was no proof that Sakaja had forged his degree from Team University in Uganda.

According to the judge, it was not for IEBC to dig if Sakaja had genuine documents or not.

The judge affirmed IEBC dispute resolution committee’s verdict that Dennis Wahome had not made a case to warrant the senator being locked out of the Nairobi governor contest.

The judge noted that Wahome’s case bordered on fraud and therefore he ought to have produced to the tribunal evidence beyond doubt that Sakaja had forged documents.

According to the judge, the petitioner instead relied on inadmissible evidence, including claims that none of the students in Team University knew him.

“As I come to the end of this issue, I first express serious concern in the manner in which serious matters of forged academic documents are handled in this country. I say so noting that this is not the first time that such a case has come before the High Court courts and the High Court has declined to find a party accused of forging academic certificates culpable in none criminal proceedings.

“It is my hope and desire that this long-standing issue will, going forward, receive appropriate action from the concerned parties,” he said.

The judgement quashed the 2012 election law enacted by Parliament after finding that MPs never called on the public to participate and enacted a discriminatory law.

Justice Anthony Mrima found that Section 22 of the Elections Act is discriminatory and fails to factor in those who are in university and will not have earned a degree at the time Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will be clearing aspirants.

According to the judge, it is unfair to place a pedestal on leadership based on university degree.

“As Parliament discharges its legislative responsibility, its focus must be on ethical standards and not only education pursuit. The impugned provision unfairly and justification discriminates on the basis of education occupation. It also fails to treat everyone equally before the law and fails to take to account persons who already have been admitted in University cannot graduate before 2022,” ruled Justice Mrima.

Currently, the Elections Act only makes it mandatory for the presidential aspirant and running mate as well as governors and their running mates to be degree holders.

Although the implementation date of the law had been postponed several times, it was set to take effect after the National Assembly in 2017 pushed it to 2022.

The fight against fake certificates could take a different trajectory in the coming days in recovery of tax payers monies.

This follows a landmark ruling where the High Court in Kisii ordered a man accused of securing a job with a forged certificate to refund all earnings gained in the period he worked in the said position.

In a case ruling delivered on February 2023, the High Court ordered EACC to recover Sh3,162,452 from the said officer.

Investigations by EACC revealed that Evans Rambeka, who was later found guilty, forged two documents; a Certificate No. 47204 and a diploma Certificate No. 8854 both in Human Resource Management purportedly issued by KIM.

He used the document to secure a post as a ward administrator for Masige West in Kisii County; a position he held for slightly over three years, starting January of 2014.

But the biggest recovery of monies acquired through fraudulent certificates was when EACC recovered Sh9,455,356 from one, Peninah Wambui Karomoh, a former employee of Rural Electrification Authority charged with 13 counts among them forgery of academic certificates.

The recovery of funds, EACC spokesperson Eric Ngumbi said, have now paved the way for similar action against other implicated officials.

“This is a landmark ruling and will set precedence in future cases in the recovery of tax payers funds that have been lost through fraudulent papers,” Ngumbi told The Standard on Monday.

The faking of documents comes amid a plan to establish a central database on certified academic qualification.

Established in 2016 the database was meant to work as a central repository for graduate information.

The platform was designed to empower employers to easily confirm the legitimacy of job applicants’ degrees.

However, despite regulations mandating institutions to upload data within 90 days of graduation, only 32 institutions, primarily colleges and technical schools, have complied.

The law dictates that the institutions have to upload the data at least 90 days after graduation.

“We are trying to enforce that and we are seeing several institutions complying with that and I believe in one year or two to come, all institutions will have uploaded their data into the system,” Kenya Nationa Qualifications Authority acting director general Alice Kande said in a past interview.

This leaves a significant gap, particularly in the university sector, where only 10 out of 39 registered public universities have uploaded their data.

Kande attributes the slow adaption to the sheer volume of historical data some universities possess, creating logistical challenges.

However, she emphasizes that the responsibility ultimately lies with these institutions to ensure the integrity of their qualifications.