BY: DAVID YUSUF KABIA, PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSISTANT
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) cannot overemphasize its appreciation of the public to refer issues which in their estimation are corruption-related. However, it must be further understood that the Commission in this pursuit has a spelt-out mandate beyond which it cannot tread. In that regard, a clear understanding of the ACC mandate and the variance to other criminal offences must be understood by the public as it is expedient we know when the Commission is warranted to intervene by way of investigation of issues or allegations that are corruption-related.
Whether or not the Commission must commence an investigation into the matter of the fake degrees conferred by The Dominion Christian University (DCU) or the African Graduate University (AGU), a thorough understanding of the Commission’s mandate bordering Section 128 (3) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019 hereinafter known as the ACA, the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) ought to be had.
What does Section 128 (3) say?
128 (3): A person who engages in corrupt activity or practice, in a programme organised or conducted by an educational institution or examination body, to confer an advantage on himself or another person, commits an offence.
In tandem with the ongoing fake degrees saga, those who believe that the Commission is mandated to investigate hold so because in their estimation, the awardees of these degrees have benefited an undue advantage in their various places of work as a result of the award of the degrees.
However, the question is, what advantage that these awardees have gotten that warrants an investigation by the ACC? Were they promoted to higher positions in their various offices due to these degrees? Were the principal persons named in this fake degree issue got to the positions they occupy because of those fake degrees? These questions cannot be answered in the affirmative or at least no evidence to that end has been advanced. The aforementioned Section to wit: S. 128 (3) means that if a public servant being paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) is promoted or employed due to those fake academic documents presented which were the requirements for the employment, it means that, that person(s) has/have committed the offence of conferring an advantage on themselves.
Is the fake degree issue a corruption offence or a forgery offence?
According to Transparency International, corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gains”. On the other hand, according to Section 1(1) of The Forgery Act, 1913, forgery is defined as “the making of a false document in order that it may be used as genuine, and in the case of the seals and dies mentioned in this Act the counterfeiting of a seal or die, and forgery with intent to defraud or deceive, as the case may be, is punishable as in this Act provided.”
It is believed by those who call on the Commission to investigate the fake degrees matter that it is corruption because the matter borders around education and that the ACA provides for malpractices within academia. This argument has been advanced (wrongly) using Section 128 (3) which gives the Commission powers to investigate examination malpractice within the educational sector.
While the said provision grants the Commission that power to investigate suspected instances of corruption within the educational sector, the question whether the said Dominion Christian University had accreditation from the TEC deserves serious consideration. From interviews and commentaries open to the public, it is clear that the Dominion University did not get accreditation from the TEC for the award of National Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree and PhD. If Dominion were not accredited, it further means that they never had the locus to issue to anyone of the aforementioned certificates. Therefore, where those awards were given to anyone without accreditation, it means that they must have been forged contrary to S.1 of the Forgery Act 1913. As the Latins would put it: “Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet” (YOU CANNOT GIVE WHAT YOU DO NOT HAVE)
Who should investigate cases of forgery?
Pursuant to S.19 of Cap 150 of the Laws of Sierra Leone of 1963, the Sierra Leone Police have the sole mandate to lead the prosecution of all criminal matters. Primarily, investigations bordering around forgery and larceny falls in the domain of the force. Nonetheless, it cannot be said that the ACC cannot investigate matters of criminality, but the Commission’s scope in this respect is limited when compared to that of the Police. Besides, the Commission can only prosecute those criminal offences which have been made so for the purpose of fighting corruption but the Police have the primary mandate to investigate every other criminal offence. Every corruption offence is a crime but not all crimes are corruption offences. And the corruption offences that can only be investigated by the Commission are those outlined in the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended in 2019.
The Professor Adjayi Vs. The Dominion and AGU argument
Upon the establishment of a Law Department at the Njala University some years ago, the need to have a Head of Department was paramount. The University published the vacancy with qualification for the position clearly spelt out. After Professor Adjeyi had applied and recruited by the University, allegations came later that he was not a PhD Holder as he made the University to believe. That is to say, his academic documents were fake. This issue was referred to the ACC by the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education because it believed that the Commission ought to investigate him because he was being paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Pursuant to Section 40 and 128 (3) of the ACA, the Commission investigated Professor Adjayi and found out that he actually earned his PhD and that his credentials applied with for the same position were never fake. This disqualifies the fact that he was going to confer an advantage on himself by posing to be a PhD holder just so he could be made a Head of Department.
That said, the Dominion case has been advanced by its proponents for the ACC to investigate citing the aforementioned case which was investigated by the Commission. But the question that begs to be answered is, who has used any of these Degrees, Masters or PhDs to gain employment or any promotion at their various offices? Without making a case for any of the high profiled persons in this matter, it cannot be denied that they had their positions before being awarded these fake qualifications.
What is the way forward?
The Commission remains committed to its mandate as provided for by Section 7 of the ACA, which requires it among others “(a). To take all steps as may be necessary for the prevention, eradication or suppression of corruption and corrupt practices and (b). To investigate instances of alleged or suspected corruption referred to it by any person or authority or which has come to its attention, whether by complaint or otherwise.”
Therefore, while the Commission believes at this material time that the Sierra Leone Police should handle the investigation for alleged forgery of documents (in this case the degrees and PhDs awarded without accreditation from the TEC), it has not declined looking at the matter but until it has evidence of persons who may have benefited (by way of appointment or promotion in their various offices) from these same fake degrees and PhDs. The ACC will continue to collaborate with the Police and other law enforcement institutions to reach a conclusion on this fake degree saga in a bid to redeem our beloved Sierra Leone from whatever degradation this viral news may have caused to our educational reputation.