The column appeared originally in Arab News dated 21/2/2013
My husband tells me this story: A 13-year-old boy, a childhood friend of my husband, wanted desperately to play in his middle school marching band. He was taking clarinet lessons and his performance ranged from awful to embarrassing. That didn’t deter him from trying out for the band. All his friends were there playing instruments and he wanted to be part of the fun.
When the band instructor gave the boy the bad news that he didn’t make the final cut to join the band, the boy wailed his indignation. He tried so hard, he owned his own musical instrument and he could march up and down the playing field like everybody else.
Why, he asked, couldn’t he march with the band and pretend to play his instrument. Nobody would be the wiser.
The teacher replied, “That’s cheating.”
It was unfair to the other band members who practiced on their instruments and worked so hard to be part of the band to have someone marching beside them who didn’t make the effort, much less the grade, to have the privilege of being a band member.
I thought about this story the other day when I heard about the police raiding a factory that produces fake diplomas and certificates in Al-Qassim. It seems that an expatriate with a Ph.D and his adult daughter were churning out as many as 16,000 phony certificates and diplomas with the appropriate seals and stamps. They would then sell the fakes to lazy people for thousands of Saudi riyals. This guy, who taught at a private Saudi university, was making a fortune off of people who had no moral qualms about cheating their way into better jobs, bigger salaries and bigger egos.
It’s kind of like wearing a fake Rolex. Fake people wear fake watches. The owner refuses to sweat blood to earn enough money to buy an expensive luxury watch, but attempts to come as a guy who did.
Fake higher education certificates and diplomas are nothing new, but Saudi Arabia has been plagued by an influx of these kinds of documents in recent years. The reason is fairly obvious. The only way to advance in a job where most of the senior managers have held on to their jobs for 20 years and have no intention of leaving is to be highly educated. That requires a master’s degree or a doctorate.
But that means actually attending a university, taking classes, performing research and defending your work in front of a tough panel of professors. But why spend four or five years on a postgraduate degree when a few thousand Saudi riyals will buy you the piece of paper that gives you a title you don’t deserve? Some people would pay up to SR 21,000 for a fake document.
Last month the Ministry of Higher Education began a verification process to weed out phony degrees held by government employees. The focus was to stop individuals from securing government jobs without the proper education. The ministry has begun demanding that all government departments have employees submit original postgraduate certificates that can be verified.
This will help identify the cheaters in government jobs, but the private sector, which offers much more lucrative salaries, has not caught on. On the surface, possessing a fake degree appears to be a victimless crime, but its harmful impact has a far reach.
Like the boy who wanted to be in a marching band but couldn’t play a musical instrument, the fake degree holder is occupying space that belongs to an individual who worked hard for his degree. The faker is taking away a job from a qualified worker. The faker is stealing money — a salary he does not deserve — from his employer. He cheated his way into a job that rightfully belonged to somebody else and prevented that person’s family to enjoy a better lifestyle.
We live in a world in which many people think nothing of taking shortcuts to advance their career and make more money. It’s haram, pure and simple, and one doesn’t need to be Muslim to understand that stealing comes in all different forms. But for Saudis who engage in this kind of behavior, there should be a special shame for them.