The scourge of fake academic papers

A copy of a counterfeit transcript for a Masters in Medicine from Nasser Road. It cost only Shs300,000 to have it made. Photos by Stanely D. Mukooza

What you need to know:

Do you know that some of your employees could have gotten jobs through fake academic documents? We visited Nasser Road, a place that has become synonymous with counterfeits in the recent past and discovered that the problem of fake academic documents is real and widespread.

In 2010, a top pension fund embarked on an exercise to clean up its image. Among the many processes they carried out, the new management team endeavoured to do away with any employee that had gotten a job through any means other than merit. Fresh interviews were held and academic papers were put under scrutiny to establish authenticity.

A peculiar story is told of one employee who had gotten the job using fake academic papers. During the fresh interviews, everything went perfect. He passed all questions and his knowledge of his job was impeccable. Clearly, he had been a great employee.

However, the problem arose from his papers. Apparently, the counterfeiter had forgotten to put the name of the secondary school the said employee had attended on his supposed “Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education”. The former management, it seemed, had missed this important anomaly and employed him anyway.

A worsening problem
Such is the laxity with which some employers seem to approach academic papers before they employ new staff.
While it is a well-known secret that a considerable number of Ugandans tender in doctored documents to get employment, a huge number of people with genuine papers remain unemployed.

In an article published by Daily Monitor in March 2017, 87 per cent of graduates cannot find jobs.

The article goes on to say, “According to National Planning Authority (NPA) statistics released this week [6 – 12, March 2017], 700,000 people join the job market every year regardless of qualification but only 90,000 get something to do.”
It is conceivable that in the circumstances mentioned, people are pushed to do whatever it takes to be among the very few employed Ugandans.

Need for research
But cases of people enjoying the fruits of gainful employment using fake papers are not documented. Save for a few MPs who have lost their seats over this issue over the years, not many reports get to the public about the matter.

According to Hamis Mugendawala, the NPA senior planner in charge of education, no research has been done on the matter. He, however, adds that he has reason to believe that it is more serious than it appears.
“The recruitment requirements in many organisations, especially government, are partly fuelling this unfortunate state of affairs. Although the problem is cross-cutting, it is more common in lower ranking positions such as drivers and others in that salary range.
“For instance, last year, we had to let go of 12 drivers after finding out that they had tendered in fake senior four pass slips. Uganda Bureau of Standards fired 15 drivers in the same year over the same matter,” he said.

How easy is it to get a fake paper?
I arrived at Nasser Road a few minutes past midday. Nasser Road is a street in Kampala City that is a one-stop-hub for all manner of printing and stationery. It has, however, come to be known for counterfeiting over the years. The word “Nasser” is almost becoming a synonym for the “fake” in many circles. Here, land titles, national IDs, driver’s permits, passports, official stamps and seals will be created for you at a convenient fee.

I approached two men that were standing by a shop entrance, engrossed in a conversation.
“I am looking for someone who can create a paper for me,” I said. One of the men took my hand in a friendly manner and pulled me up the stairs into the building.
“You have come to the right place,” he said as we took seats at his workstation. The said workstation was two plastic chairs and a table with a computer on it, placed outside the entrance of an overcrowded shared office.

He asked what kind of paper I wanted. I told him I wanted a Master’s Degree in Medicine. My intention in seeking this particular degree was to sound as ridiculous as possible. Without a fuss, he wrote down my name, the name of the degree, the desired date of completion and the institution I wanted on it.

Having done that, I also asked if it was possible to alter the marks on my Senior Four pass slip. He assured me that this was a very easy task to do too. “Just Shs50,000 only,” he said without looking up from his notepad. He added that most of his income comes from altering the marks on Senior Four pass slips.

Catch 22
The little time I spent with this man was a window into what goes on in the dark world of counterfeiting. For instance, to placate my fear on whether his tricks were going to work for me, he took me through the kind of confidence people have in his work.

He told me he spares nothing in getting the best designers, the best stamps, paper and seals. He said I would be shocked if I got to know the kinds of people he works for. Apparently some of them are too big to come by themselves. They go through third parties.

“People turn to Nasser Road when a promotion is at hand but they lack the requisite academic documents. People’s lives have been changed. I can guarantee you will get that job, because the paper I will give you can be trusted,” he said.
He told me part of his clientele are people seeking jobs out of the country.

A little over two hours later, I held a brown envelope in my hands. He handed it to me on the street in the full sight of everyone.
I handed him the rest of the money and parted ways. The two jobs had cost me Shs300,000 and just two hours of waiting.

Police has a big task
Police spokesperson for Kampala Metropolitan area, Luke Owoyesigire, says the confidence of the counterfeiters comes from the fact that this is a crime that has no real victims. “They know that the first person who would report them to the authorities is an accomplice in the crime.

This is a crime that has great support from the society. ‘Abantu mubaleke bafune emirimu,” (loosely translated as ‘leave people to get jobs’) people say in support,” he says.

Silver lining
However, the silver lining on this dark cloud is that employers are slowly starting to view academic papers with sharp eyes during job applications, according to the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). The role of this body is, among others, to receive and investigate complaints relating to institutions of higher learning.

According to the NCHE spokesperson, Saul Waigolo, it is increasingly becoming standard procedure for employers to send all the papers of shortlisted job applicants to NCHE for verification.

“We receive at least 200 academic papers daily for verification. Our job is to determine whether or not an academic paper originates from the institution indicated on it,” Waigolo says.

The human resource manager for Umeme, Mike Bwisho, says during recruitments, all the tendered-in academic papers are sent to a private consultancy for verification. “The burden of dealing with counterfeit papers is totally on the consultancy firm,” he says.

The Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) says only a handful of institutions and employers seek verification of pass slips with them.

One thing is certain. Fake academic papers are real and widespread. That master’s degree from Nasser road could very easily fool anyone.

Apparently, even NCHE cannot tell if the actual grades have been tampered with from Nasser Road, according to Waigolo. That is how deep the issue is.