Finding Fake Qualifications a Thriving Business

The exposure of unqualified executives has benefited verification agencies, writes Karl Gernetzky

Business Day - Karl Gernetzky

15 January 2015

Verification agencies are reporting an increased focus on ensuring that job candidates have the qualifications they claim, following several high-profile incidents last year in which top executives and board members were unmasked as frauds.

South African Broadcasting Corporation chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng remains in his position despite Public Protector Thuli Madonsela`s finding last year that he had lied about having a matric when he first applied for a job at the SABC in the mid-1990s.

Mr Motsoeneng maintains the public broadcaster was aware he did not have a matric and of allegations that he attempted to bribe a former human resources officer with R2m to back him up.
Former SABC board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala tendered her resignation in December after intense public pressure over qualifications she claimed to have but which could not be verified, including a BComm degree and a postgraduate diploma in labour relations.

South African Airways chairwoman Dudu Myeni claimed she had a BA in administration from the University of Zululand when she was appointed in 2009.   Despite her deceit, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson last year recommended her for the board of PetroSA.

The Central Energy Fund refused to appoint Ms Myeni and, following reports that its new chairman, Tshepo Kgadima, had misrepresented his credentials on his CV, decided to vet all its board members.

The South African Qualifications Authority`s (Saqa`s) verification service, which checks qualifications against the National Learners Records Database, says school-leaving certificate fraud is the largest category requiring checking, but this is due to the large number of people with a matric qualification.  School-leaving certificates are the most faked qualification at 41%, followed by degrees at 32% and diplomas at 13%, Saqa says.

In the 2012-13 financial year, Saqa verified the credentials of 39,144 people, involving 60,463 qualifications, and found that 0.8% of people vetted claimed one or more fraudulent qualification.   Only 0.5% of all qualifications verified were found to be fraudulent.  Saqa verified 28,842 records in the 2013-14 financial year and found 0.4% of them were fraudulent.  From April to August last year, Saqa verified 11,559 qualifications, 0.  6% of which were forgeries.  Not all problems picked up by Saqa could be attributed to people intent on committing fraud.   Some unaccredited qualifications are attributed to "legitimate accredited institutions that offer qualifications that they haven`t received authorisation for", Saqa CEO Joe Samuels says.

Saqa is also responsible for the evaluation of foreign qualifications for people seeking to study or work in SA, and this work has increased from 25,000 vettings in the 2010-11 financial year to 36,000 in 2013-14.  Almost 27% of all these checks were on people from Zimbabwe, followed by India at just under 10%, Nigeria at 9.3% and the UK at 8.7%.

Quality and qualification assurance agencies, state agencies, government departments of education and education providers from 13 African countries met in SA last November to establish the African Qualification Verification Network.  It aims to strengthen service level agreements and shorten the time taken on verification requests.

SA`s largest background screening company, Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), has found a higher risk of irregularity in qualifications submitted by people from the rest of Africa seeking employment in SA.  MIE provides background screening covering criminal records, driving licences and other permits, with 2,612,536 record checks last year and 2,568,201 the previous year.  CEO Ina van der Merwe says 40% of MIE`s business is qualifications vetting.

MIE checks all irregularities, including forged certification, not having a claimed qualification or a grade at all, and qualification inflation, among other things.  Last year, the risk of some irregularity being found in a qualifications check was 15.64%, down from 15.92% in 2013.  Ms van der Merwe says she can only speculate why more irregularities are found among African job candidates, but "there might be a naivety, thinking that it will not be checked".

To save taxpayers` money, Quest Staffing Solutions offered to verify Ms Tshabalala`s qualifications free of charge last month, while the SABC chairwoman was fighting a costly court battle to stop questions about her education.  Quest CEO Kay Vittee says she was deeply concerned about the message sent to society, and youth in particular, because Ms Tshabalala was able to secure a top position within a large state-owned organisation while she was unable to prove her claim of holding two tertiary qualifications.

"Ambitious students rack up tremendous student loans in the hope of graduating with a degree that will get them noticed by employers," she says.   "Does the recurring theme of SABC employees standing accused of being unqualified for the position they fill not make a mockery of the education system and the plight of hard working students?"

Quest recommends that public and private sector organisations use proper screening and verification services when interviewing employees and selecting board members.  "What use is it to sort through hundreds of job applications if you are not going to follow up on whether the candidate really did obtain the required qualification as outlined in their CV?" Ms Vittee asks.

During the Tshabalala saga, she says, an undisclosed amount of money was used to enable Parliament`s communications portfolio committee to deal with the matter.   The committee flew several people to Cape Town on many occasions when, for a fraction of the cost, verification companies could have verified the qualifications of candidates and current employees in a single day.

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