EC clean-up sparks off jitters over fake papers

Polling assistants count ballot papers of presidential candidates at Wakiso Health Centre IV on January 14, 2021. More than 800 employees at the Electoral Commission are having sleepless nights over what insiders called a brewing “surgical operation”, targeting staff with forged academic documents. PHOTO / JOSEPH KIGGUNDU

What you need to know:

  •  Mr Mulekwah, sources say, is under strict instructions to weed out unqualified employees who might have infiltrated the system through “the godfathers” and other “political connections”. The suspects are now said to be occupying key positions at the Commission.  

More than 800 employees at the Electoral Commission are having sleepless nights over a looming “surgical operation”, targeting staff with forged academic documents.

The clean-up exercise ordered by the Commission last year, is now being supervised by the Secretary to the Commission, Mr Leonard Mulekwah, who is also the accounting officer. 

On January 17, Mr Mulekwah wrote to all EC staff, ordering them to submit certified and verified academic papers.

 Mr Mulekwah, sources say, is under strict instructions to weed out unqualified employees who might have infiltrated the system through “the godfathers” and other “political connections”. The suspects are now said to be occupying key positions at the Commission.  

After examining 853 staff files and unverified documents, the Commission ordered all staff to go back to their respective institutions of higher learning to secure certified and verified copies of their academic papers. However, some staff have failed to secure the required documentation, on the pretext that their intuitions either closed shop or can’t be traced. 

The first circular was sent to all staff on November 1, 2021, requiring them to submit their academic papers by November 19, 2021.

Some responded to the circular, others did not and a good number made partial submissions, prompting Mr Mulekwah to issue a reminder on January 17, giving all employees up to January 31 to submit original copies of their academic documents.   

 “We are aware some of you were not able to submit in time due to a busy schedule then, and also of the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, many of you reported that some of the academic institutions were still closed,” Mr Mulekwah’s internal circular reads in part. 

EC explains clean-up

Mr Paul Bukenya, the EC spokesperson, on Tuesday confirmed the on-going academic verification exercise and ruled out witch-hunt or hidden motive.

He defended the exercise as “normal practice in all smart organisations” and requested staff to remain calm. 

“Sometimes people get apprehensive when it comes to academic documents but this clean-up exercise is consistent with what other organisations do. It is true we requested staff to submit verified and certified academic documents because some have upgraded and we want to ascertain that everything is fine. Some have submitted and if we find any issue, we will double-check with the institutions,” Mr Bukenya said.   

He added: “We want to update staff records and there is no sinister motives. We involved staff because we didn’t want to do things behind their back. It is a good practice in government and across Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). We just want staff with clean records and this is going to improve efficiency.

On account of rising cases of forgeries, employers have started to view academic papers with sharp eyes during job applications. Some ministerial appointments have been thrown out by the Parliamentary Appointments Committee due to forged academic documents. 

Mr Thomas Tayebwa, a former member of Makerere University Council, now the Government Chief Whip, has advised EC and other agencies seeking to weed out fakes, to write to education intuitions to verify the documents. He also warned that “the certified copies and the seals can easily be procured from Nasser Road.” 

 “Let employers and all the MDAs send the list of all staff and their submitted qualifications to academic institutions claimed to have issued those documents for verification,” Mr Tayebwa said, adding: “Some institutions have sent staff to Makerere University and I am made to understand that many were discovered to have fake documents. This can be done as part of due diligence.”

He added: “It is not enough for EC or any other organisation to sack employees with forged documents, institutions like Makerere University should institute criminal proceedings against the forger and whoever is involved in the scam. If we don’t stop them, they will take the same forged document to other institutions and the epidemic continues.”   

Call for reforms

Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the vice chancellor of Makerere University and other leaders in education sector, have backed EC’s decision and suggested an independent verification with stringent amendments to the penal code. 

“There should be a law to block people involved in forgery of documents from any form of formal employment in the public and private sector,” Prof Nawangwe said.

Forgery and uttering forged documents are criminal offenses in the Penal Code Act. Getting caught with forged documents can mean a prison sentence of up to five years for the architect and all the people involved in the chain. 

Kampala City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago blames the scourge of forgeries in public and other private sector, on  when “the moral fibre of this country is rotten to the marrow”.

He added: “All systems need rebooting, including examination and vetting bodies.”

In the short term, Mr Lukwago suggests urgent amendments to the penal laws to impose heavy sanctions on culprits.

the law

The scourge of forgeries

Under the Penal Code, any person who forges any document commits an offence which, unless otherwise stated, is a felony and is liable, unless owing to the circumstances of the forgery or the nature of the thing forged some other punishment is provided, to imprisonment for three years.

Forgery according to Justice Margarete Tibulya is the making of a false document with intent to defraud or to deceive. In R.V. WINES {1953} 2 AER 1497 cited in Supreme Court Appeal No.32/2010  Teddy Sseezi Cheeye Vs Uganda, to “defraud’’ was defined as...“to deceive and to deceive is to induce a man or woman to believe that a thing is true which is false”.

However, mere possession of a forged document, Justice Tibulya says is not proof that the bearer is its forger.

But under Section. 19 (2) of the Penal Code, a person who procures another to commit an offence will be guilty of the same offence the one procured commits. See (Uganda Vs Teddy Seezi Cheeye, Criminal case No 1254 of 2008).

Also, circumstances that point to the fact that it is the accused who forged the document in issue, and leaving no other reasonable alternative may be relied on to infer the guilt of the accused, Uganda vs. Geoffrey Kazinda, HCT 0138 of 2012.

Reactions

Rebecca Kadaga, EAC Minister

Some of those papers create [fake] doctors who operate on Ugandans [in hospitals]; they also create accountants, teachers and engineers... Let us think hard about this and see how to move. (Said in 2018)

Justine K. Lumumba, Minister (General Duties in OPM)

Make a centralised digital system that captures every child at entry of the education system at the lowest level possible until the highest level  which is encrypted and kept at Education ministry.

Jacob Oboth Oboth, junior Defence minister

It should be the concern of every employer to seek and obtain verified academic documents, fakeness and fraudulent practices are largely growing and must be checked.

Venansius Baryamureeba, Ibanda University Chancellor

It’s not possible to stop forgeries. However, examination bodies should create a database of qualifications obtained from Uganda and those verified from abroad. 

Mathias Mpuuga, LoP in Parliament

A corrupt EC has no capacity dealing with fraudulent candidates! Where the basis for working with EC has an inclination on ethnicity and regime loyalty, it will protect those preferred by the regime!

Prof Ogenga Latigo, former Leader of Opposition

Nothing much can be done [to stop people forging academic qualifications and other documents]. It is the norm in a regime where lies and dishonesty are critical methods of work.

Richard Todwong, NRM Secretary General

We have to punish heavily those found guilty of the crime.

Emmanuel Ddombo, former Parliament Commissioner 

Government should make forgery very painful by putting a hefty penalty for the offence. Just imagine lying as a patient before a Dr who has forged papers?

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