Iraq gets tough on fake qualifications, up to 50,000 jobs at risk

April 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Iraq gets tough on fake qualifications, up to 50,000 jobs at risk

niqash | Kholoud Ramzi | mon 18 apr 11

Anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 Iraqis apparently used forged qualifications to get their jobs. Among them are MPs who may be forced to leave parliament, if found guilty.

The news, when it came, was hardly surprising. Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Minerals had decided to dismiss a group of employees because they had used forged certificates and other fake documents to get their jobs. But this was really only the tip of a large paper iceberg in Iraqi society, one made of falsified documents and forgeries of all kinds. In fact, the prevalence of fake documentation is seen as a sign of the kind of widespread, bureaucratic corruption that plagues the fledgling democracy, its government and people – and which many Iraqis have recently been protesting against.

In March 2011, the Iraqi parliament’s Commission on Integrity, an independent body responsible for uncovering corruption at all levels of Iraqi government, said that it believed there were around 20,000 people currently employed by the state who had got their jobs with forged educational qualifications.

More recently the Ministry of Justice announced their own estimate, saying that they believed there could be as many as 50,000 fake certificates on file; They added that they thought 4,000 of these belonged to individuals working for their own ministry.

Additionally the Integrity Commission believes that forgeries are not just confined to junior staff but are also used by high ranking government members. As Alia Nassif, a member of the Commission on Integrity and an MP for the Iraqiya list, told NIQASH: “Investigations carried out by the Commission reveal that some of the current MPs used submitted forged certificates to the electoral committee more than a year ago.”

The integrity commission would eventually move to replace the MPs who were found to have forged qualifying documents, she said. The offenders would be replaced with other politicians who genuinely qualified. “The [new] candidates should be from the same lists,” Nassif explained, adding that “the commission is working hard to address this problem, especially because it also exists inside Parliament.”

Nassif declined to name any of the MPs involved until the investigation was completed.

According to Iraqi law, anyone who is found guilty of using forged papers will be dismissed from their job and possibly required to pay back all earnings received in that job, from the day he or she was appointed until the day the guilty verdict was issued.

While the issue of forged documents is not new, this is the first time in recent history, that the Integrity Commission, tasked with investigating the issue, has stressed the need for government ministries to stick to the letter of the law when it comes to prosecution.

This could be problematic simply because of the huge number of people involved in breaking these kinds of laws. For example, if the most severe penalty – over a year’s imprisonment – was applied to all those affected, then the Ministry of Justice would have to open a special prison just to house the guilty. Citing this as a reason, in December 2010, the Iraqi cabinet formed a special committee to look into an easing of the law against users of falsified documentation.

But the Integrity Commission remains opposed to this, saying any easing or commuting of sentences, should be considered “a kind of cover up”. “Mitigating penalties will just encourage corruption,” a Commission spokesperson said, “especially among ministers and members of parliament who are currently in power.”

According to the spokesperson, there was already internal corruption around this issue. For example, he said, “there are orders issued by the government which ban investigation into any employee without the minister’s consent. This gives employees an opportunity to escape the long arm of the law.” Additionally, the individuals in cabinet who hold forged certificates themselves would also have an interest in maintaining this status quo.

This is not the first time such accusations have been leveled at the Iraqi cabinet. In January 2011, Jawad al-Hasnawi, a member of parliament whose party is part of the National Iraqi Alliance, accused the prime minister and cabinet of covering up who among their employees held faked documents. Al-Hasnawi said that there were more than 3,000 cases to address among those employed directly by the cabinet alone.

A fortnight later, the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works dismissed 92 employees after verifying that they held faked documents.

According to sources at the Commission on Integrity, it is fairly easy to detect whether Iranian-issued documents are real or not. But it is much more difficult if the documents were issued outside the country.

Inside Iraq, one of the most popular places to buy forged certificates is at the Maridi market in the eastern suburb of Sadr City, Baghdad. Many of the professional forgers working here have contacts inside governmental departments who will put an official stamp on forged certificates and documents in return for cash.

To detect an Iranian-issued academic forgery, an employer need only send an official letter to the university or educational institution that issued the document, enquiring about the date of issue and the document’s serial number. Often these documents all have the university’s actual seal affixed. If the document is genuine, the educational institution will have the corresponding dates and serial numbers. If it is not, there will be no record of it – despite the seal. It’s an easy and straight forward way to detect forged documents. However one of the biggest problems here is time: there is often a delay of months even to perform this fairly routine check.

An even bigger problem is presented by certificates that have supposedly been issued outside of Iraq.

Iranian documents make for a major problem. Thousands of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims lived in exile in Iran at some stage – they may have fled a variety of conflicts or persecution by Saddam Hussein’s mainly Sunni Muslim Baath party – and many now hold documents issued by Iranian educational institutions, some of which are not officially recognized by the Iraqi government, as well as qualifications from religious seminaries in the Iranian city of Qom, currently the largest center for Shia scholarship in the world.

Certificates issued by institutions in Lebanon, the Gulf states, in northern African nations like Tunisia and Algeria and in India and Pakistan are also difficult to verify. “Educational institutions outside the country often do not respond to official letters sent by the Integrity Commission,” a spokesperson for the commission explained.

Iraq’s laws regarding educational qualifications gained in other countries are similar to those in many Western lands. An equivalency process to ensure that the two nations’ qualifications are equitable, must be completed before the qualification will be recognized in Iran. Often this might involve the individual concerned sitting a test of some kind.

However, according to observers, a lot of the appointments made during the last eight years were based mainly on religious or political biases. Verifying qualifications takes a long time and in many cases, the equivalency process was neglected because superiors preferred to protect the employee, hired on ideological grounds rather than objective qualifications.

To prevent this continuing to happen, the Iraqi government recently announced its intention to stop the political interference in employment processes, saying that potential employees’ names would be drawn from a pool of those individuals who had passed equivalency tests. Until now though, nobody has acted upon this proposal.

http://www.niqash.org/content.php?contentTypeID=74&id=2821&lang=0

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