EducationFact CheckSierra Leone

Anti-Corruption Commission  has not  considered property confiscation  of fake degree awarding institutions 

CLAIM: Popular blog SierraLoaded’s re-published story from Exclusive Newspaper claims the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has a gamut of sanctions for fake degree awarding institutions and fake degree holders, including a fine of Le 50 million or five years jail term with property confiscation . This claim the blog attributes to the Communications Officer of ACC.

Anti-Corruption Commission  has not  considered property confiscation  of fake degree awarding institutions 

The ACC confirms the sanctions that involve the payment of fines but vehemently denies the claim of property confiscation.

Full Text

Sierra Leone has been hit by a fake degree scandal. Public discourse and social media conversations over the last few months have been pregnant with details of the scandal. A  whistleblower continues  to publish names of people alleged to be holders of fake degrees while there have also been rebuttals and denials.  In the midst of these publications,  a viral post by one of the leading online news platforms in Sierra Leone named SierraLoaded, which outlined a number of sanctions to fake degree awarding institutions, appears to be grabbing the headlines but for the wrong reasons. Details of the sanctions put out by Sierraloaded are captured in the following screenshots;

Anti-Corruption Commission  has not  considered property confiscation  of fake degree awarding institutions 
Anti-Corruption Commission  has not  considered property confiscation  of fake degree awarding institutions 

The news platform further stated that “According to the ACC mouthpiece, this penalty is in line with the new ACC Act, adding that the anti-graft institution has now decided to launch an investigation on the alarming issue because the Commission thinks it is corruption related.”

As can be seen from the above, the sanctions to fake awarding institutions were spelled out but were attributed to  the communication officer of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Sylvanus Blake. 

Verification

Given the level of interest and controversy this scandal has generated, DUBAWA decided to educate its readers and Sierra Leoneans at large on how to identify a fake degree awarding institution. Even more importantly, DUBAWA has decided to verify the gamut of sanctions and the claim made by Exclusive Newspaper as re-published by  Sierraloaded which had already garnered over 5,000 views and keeps getting more traction. It was shared by a follower of Dubawa with a request for us to fact-check the claim. 

DUBAWA immediately reached out to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC)  Assistant Public Relations Officer, Sylvanus Blake, who was quoted by SierraLoaded. Mr. Blake admitted to seeing the claim by SierraLoaded but flatly denied portions of the content. According to him, neither he, nor any member of the ACC has made any comment about confiscation of properties and was surprised that this piece of information will find expression in any report.  He says all attempts to reach out to SierraLoaded for a rejoinder have been futile.

In a written response to DUBAWA,  Mr Sylvanus Blake stated as follows; 

“We appreciate the contributions of the media including the Sierra Loaded itself to the fight against corruption and we continue to seek your continued support in this regard.

On the stated matter, the ACC’s PRO had not granted any interview to Sierra Loaded. The account stated is not representative of the ACC nor the PR officer mentioned. *Though the penalty stated is correct for any corruption offence for which one is found guilty in a competent court, including the 128(3&4) itself, the PR never mentioned confiscation of properties owned by proprietors of fake institutions*

All interviews granted by the PR team on the fake degrees saga had spoken on the following:

  1. The ACC has instructed comprehensive credentials/qualifications audit and verification of all public sector workers by all public sector institutions
  2. A special Task Force has been set up by the ACC, comprising Investigators and Prevention Officers to lead the process
  3. That the section 128(3) of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 as amended states that academic malpractice is a crime and has at its main element the conferment of an advantage on oneself or another. The ACC will address suspected instances of corruption that are in contravention of the above provision and will hold persons found wanting accountable.

It is worth noting that this process has already begun.

Thanks again for reaching out. I’m grateful.” 

Mr Blake further declared that the “ACC has not launched a criminal investigation and does not think or view the issues of fake degrees as corruption until there has been an audit of qualifications to ascertain whether workers have used the fake certificates to gain employment or even earned some other undue advantages.  The ACC’s task force is only in the process of helping the public sector verify the credentials and qualifications of their workers and it is only through this audit process that the ACC can unearth any wrongdoing as per the ACC act,“Mr Blake concluded.

In investigating the claims and sanctions as put out by SierraLoaded,  DUBAWA also found a press release calling on public sector institutions to immediately conduct academic credentials verification/audit. 

DUBAWA can confirm that a  committee has since been set up by the house of parliament to investigate the issue of fake degrees, and other institutions like the Ministry of Technical and Higher Education have instructed  all academic staff who acquired their credentials from unaccredited institutions and used such certifications for employment purposes to resign in the next two weeks. Pending the outcome of a thorough investigation, the National Telecommunications Commission has also suspended its Director General and a few others suspected to be holders of fake degrees. A few other institutions have already taken action following the press release.

With Mr Blake denying ever granting an interview to SierraLoaded and also denying portions of the sanctions regime, DUBAWA decided to seek clarity from Sierraloaded on the report it put out, particularly on the issue of confiscation of properties and whether or not the organisation has any evidence to back the claims on property confiscation.

The desk editor at SierraLoaded later revealed that the story shared on their platform was a re-published version of the original story that was published by the Exclusive Newspaper on the 4th May 2022 and that all content belongs entirely to the Exclusive Newspaper. 

SierraLoaded could therefore not substantiate the claim that there will be property confiscation as part of the sanctions regime.

Anti-Corruption Commission  has not  considered property confiscation  of fake degree awarding institutions 
Source: SierraLoaded

May 4 2022 front page showing a featured story on penalties of fake degree on top-right.

Conclusion

From the findings of our investigation, DUBAWA affirms that the penalty of 50 million leones or five years jail term or both for people found guilty of issuing  fake certificates  is correct but the ACC does not intend to confiscate any related institution’s properties until the court instructs. 

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