Verification of public servants’ qualifications found widespread use of false documents
THE national Department of Public Service and Administration, which has admitted that hundreds of officials were last year found to have been employed with fake academic qualifications, scrambled yesterday to protect the integrity of the public service.
In a briefing to the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on public service and administration yesterday, the department disclosed that 640 cases of fraud or misrepresentation of academic qualifications were uncovered during a verification process.
The disclosure follows a raft of revelations in recent months about public figures who have been caught misrepresenting their academic qualifications.
It also comes after the dramatic exposure by The Herald last year of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s former dean of arts and head of the family studies unit, Velile Notshulwana, who was found to have misrepresented his qualifications and plagiarised large volumes of work.
Ministry spokesman Brent Simons said yesterday that while there was certainly a problem with qualifications in the public sector, it represented a small percentage of the sector’s 1.3 million employees.
“The vast majority of employees are honest, law-abiding citizens,” he said, adding that the national department had already started taking steps to address the dishonesty in the public service last year.
It was enforcing far more stringent screening and qualification verification processes for new public sector employees, but would now have to ensure this was implemented in public service departments countrywide.
Asked whether any steps were being taken to address the 640 cases of fraud and misrepresentation, Simons said some of the culprits had been disciplined and some dismissed.
He said the department would, in future, be putting far more emphasis on professionalism in the public service. This would be achieved through a range of initiatives such as training and mentorships and through the National School of Government.
Geeva Pillay, a senior official responsible for human resources and planning in the department, told MPs the SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA) checked the qualifications of 28 562 government officials last year.
Pillay said during the verification process, 640 records of qualifications from officials “were found to be instances of fraud/ misrepresentation” but action had yet to be taken against those implicated.
But MPs were not happy that the department was not prepared to name and shame the officials or government departments linked to the fraud.
“There are issues of fraud where applicants tamper with the certificates, change the dates, change the name. These . . . are then forwarded to the issuing institution to take up as a civil matter,” Pillay said.
“We’ve been informed by SAQA that the Minister of Higher Education treats fraudulent representations or tampering with qualifications in a serious light and is driving a process to address this.”
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has repeatedly spoken out against the rising phenomenon of top government officials faking their academic qualifications.
He has called for a national fraud register, which would publicly list individuals who had committed qualifications fraud.
South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, Mohau Pheko, is the latest public official to join a growing list of those who have been caught faking their academic papers.
Pheko was exposed by the Financial Mail last week for claiming she was an academic doctor with a PhD, although she never graduated and the university she supposedly graduated from was shut down several years before the date she claimed to have completed her studies.
ANC stalwart Pallo Jordan was forced to resign as an ANC MP last year after the Sunday Times exposed the fact that he was also not a PhD graduate as he had claimed for decades.
SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was also found guilty of faking his matric certificate by the office of the public protector.
Pillay said the department and SAQA were also struggling to verify the qualifications of thousands of teachers and nurses who graduated before 1992, because their papers had not been electronically captured.
The State Security Agency was assisting SAQA with verifying qualifications following the removal of private sector companies from the process.
-Thabo Mokone and Shaun Gillham