Kendeh Kolleh Yumkella Heads Fake Degree Holders Investigation Committee

Sierra Leonean opposition lawmaker, Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella has been named to chair a Special Parliamentary Select Committee to conduct a nationwide audit of academic credentials of public officials.

Dr Yumkella, who heads the National Grand Coalition (NGC) in parliament, was named on Wednesday, May 4th, following the adoption of a resolution paving way for the constitution of the committee.

Saio Marrah reports that, Sierra Leone has been embroiled in a scandal of fake degrees since police busted a now closed institution called Dominion University, which was allegedly awarding “degrees” without proper accreditation.

That revelation provoked a huge public outcry amid revelations of the identities of public officials suspected of holding fake degrees.

Dr Youmkella, who represents Constituency 062 in the northern Kambia District, will chair a seven-member committee to coordinate the investigations.

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Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass Bundu, said on Wednesday that the committee is charged with the responsibility of directing “all the standing committees of parliament to compel all Ministries Department and Agencies (MDAs) within the purview of their oversight responsibility to submit documents pre-evident of certificate of diplomas and degrees claimed to be held by all public officials…”

He added that their mandate also included examining the authenticity of all such certificates and to produce a written report with recommendations for the consideration of parliament.

The committee has until before the dissolution of the current parliament, starting on Tuesday 10th May. This effectively means that it has about a year to complete the exercise.

Parliament first adopted a motion to investigate the matter late last month, following the introduction of a private member motion by opposition Coalition for Change (C4C) MP Paul Saa Sam. The motion called for the audit of certificates of not just officials in MDAs but also Members of Parliament.

Hon. Sam was quoted in a parliamentary news release saying that Sierra Leone’s image had been stained by the scandal, and he called out the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for failing in its mandate to carry out its functions.

The ACC came under heavy criticism from the public for failing to take immediate action following the revelations.

ACC Commissioner Francis Ben Kaifala publicly defended his decision not to act, but he would later take a U-Turn when the Commission on April 19th issued a statement urging all MDAs to conduct institutional audit on the academic credentials of their officials.

Independent lawmaker Quintin Salia-Konneh, who seconded the parliamentary motion, called for “serious actions” to be taken against defaulters. He also suggested that Parliament summoned officials of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) for questioning.

The TEC has largely been spared criticism in the ensuing debate sparked by the discovery of the so-called Dominion University, although many people have argued that the higher education accreditation body is partly to blame for the situation.

C4C MP, Sahr Charles, said the TEC should provide answers in light of these revelations following the discovery of Dominion.

Ruling party lawmaker, Bashiru Silikie, who acted as Leader of Government Business during the debate, added that it was Parliament that created the TEC and that the regulator should be seen fulfilling their mandate, urging them to step up to their responsibilities.

During that session, Dr Yumkella described as a “total disgrace” the act of paying for degrees, suggesting that all those who paid for such should be required to submit their payment receipts and denounce their fake degrees.

The original motion suggested that the Special Committee should conduct the investigation. But it was modified so that existing select committees do the investigations with the coordination of the Special committee. But the Special committee can also do additional investigations as it deems fit. It was also allowed to co-opt people from outside parliament to help it accomplish its mandate.

Following his appointment on Wednesday as chairperson of the Special Committee, Yumkella told the Parliamentary Update Group that the assignment was a call for public service.

It’s a herculean task, but we believe [it’s] a national service to help sanitize the system. It’s important that we push for academic excellence in our country. It is important we all take this serious. It’s a national issue. Otherwise we could be blacklisted by some countries … because we have this false image globally that our graduate are not good enough,” he told journalist Melvin Tejan Mansaray, who runs the PUG.

“This is an important exercise that’s been done in Tanzania and Kenya and other places. However, it seems like our situation here is very serious,” the lawmaker added.

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