Written Professor Danwood M Chirwa
The debate on counterfeit doctoral degrees in Malawi is no idle chatter. It strikes at the foundations of corruption in the country. Too much attention has focused on financial crimes as the country’s coffers have been ripped to pieces, as if the problem is entirely political. Yes, Malawian politics is constituted and defined by corruption, but the roots of the problem lie much deeper than the veneer of politics.
There is a deep-seated culture of dishonesty and shortcuts in a marathon to get rich quick, to gain an unfair advantage to the top of an organization, or to gain undeserved respect from pears and hand clappers. The adulation of crooks both encourages others to join the fray and allows the crooks to sanitize their conscience.
It is astonishing just how many prominent Malawians have falsified their credentials and used them to advance themselves at the expense of more deserving people.
At the center of this fraud is a cabal of individuals who have taken advantage of the appalling state of education in the country which leaves many young people without opportunities for further education and a lax regulatory landscape. This group of people form part of an international network whose goals are to make a mockery of higher education and to profit from such mockery. They exploit the vulnerable young people, hungry for further education governments deny them.
But all this does not explain why those with some level of literacy jump into the bandwagon to patronize counterfeit institutions. Surely a policeman who is taught at secondary level and knows the rules should be able to tell the difference between an institution that serves as an engine for fraud and one which is legitimate. An accountant who heads an institution that grants charters to accounting practitioners must surely know how to audit an institution. In a country which leaks billions of taxpayers’ money through corruption and looting, are we surprised that the person regulating the accounting profession is himself dishonest and a participant in qualifications fraud?
We have had Ministers, and we have too many MPs, pastors and Bishops, politicians, civil servants, businesswomen and men who are wearing false credentials.
The new government says it is going to give priority to cleaning up fake qualifications. Let us wait and see. But what will the professional bodies, statutory corporations, higher education institutions, private corporations, civil society, religions organizations and political parties do?
The debate has, importantly, highlighted the huge gaps in the regulatory framework for the education sector. The registration and accreditation processes seem too porous and corrupt. A lot of work needs to be done to clean up the education system but also to enhance access to, and improve the delivery of, tertiary education.
Corruption in Malawi is a national emergency and it must be declared as such for there to be meaningful progress in tackling it decisively and purposefully.
Professor Danwood Chirwa, former head of public law at the University of Cape Town