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IDA defends hiring of employee accused of possessing fake MBA

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Nisha Padmanabhan is an employee of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

She was hired as an Applications Consultant by the IDA in 2014.

Ms Nisha, an Indian-born Singapore citizen who apparently has been working in Singapore since 2006, has a Bachelor’s degree “from a reputable university”, according to the IDA.

She was hired by the IDA because of her “extensive past work experience and good track record”, besides her degree.

Ms Nisha, however, is being accused of also possessing a fake Masters' degree.

On 6 April, one Sam Tan posted a link to a discussion thread on the SG Talk forum about fake degrees being used by foreigners in Singapore on the IDA Facebook page, asking for the stat board to respond. (See here.)

The thread in the forum had claimed that Ms Nisha had received a Masters’ degree from “South Pacific University”, a known degree mill which churns out fake academic degrees.

The non-existent South Pacific University, supposedly based in Hawaii, has been closed down by a US court order in 2002. (See here.)

On 7 April, Mr Tan again posted on the IDA page again.

“I wrote about recently about an employee at your esteemed office with a dubious degree,” he said.

He asked for the outcome of any investigations by the IDA into the matter. (See here.)

One week later, on 14 April, the IDA posted the following response to Mr Tan’s query:

“Thank you for your patience. We have investigated and would like to share that Nisha Padmanabhan, a Singapore citizen who joined IDA in 2014, has a Bachelor’s degree from a reputable university and was recruited because of this Bachelor degree, extensive past work experience and good track record. Nisha pursued an MBA out of personal interest, and it was not a relevant certificate for her position in IDA though she was open about the fact that she had obtained it.

"Her MBA from Southern Pacific University was not a factor that contributed to her employment at IDA.

"In fact, 93.5% of all IDA staff that were hired at the level of Applications Consultant were based on their Bachelor’s degree.

“We would like to share that Nisha has been a committed team member and contributed in her role as an Applications Consultant for the past year. We would also like to take this chance to share that IDA selects employees based on a holistic set of criteria which includes their educational qualifications, work experience, individual career aspirations and personality traits.”

In brief, the IDA seems to be saying that Ms Nisha’s alleged fake Masters’ degree was inconsequential to the decision to hire her at the IDA.

The IDA’s explanation, however, did not seem convincing to some members of the public.

Ms Liu Ching Man posted her response to IDA: “So are you saying she had hid the fact that she ‘had’ this questionable MBA from 2006 at the point of recruitment into IDA in 2014, ie you condone false declaration of qualifications? Or are you saying that your HR knowingly accepted the questionable qualifications in her resume at the point of employment because the MBA was irrelevant to her position ie your organization condones a questionable qualification as long as its not relevant to the job?”

Mr Yeo Kee Wee saw it as a matter of integrity.

“This is a matter of personal integrity and how IDA portrays itself to Singapore and the world,” he posted. “So, it is ok for IDA to accept this kind of conduct from their employees?”

Ms Sarah Wong said:

“IDA, this is a matter of public interest. How IDA evaluate your potential candidates is irrelevant to the issue. The issue is your employee has publicly declared obtaining a degree from an institution that has recently been surfaced to be of dubious nature. If that is proven to be true and henceforth, the public would need to be assured that our public institutions are not staffed with personnel with questionable conduct and integrity. Please look into this matter again.”

In 2013, the problem of foreigners using fake degrees to obtain work passes in Singapore was in the spotlight after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) charged 25 foreigners “for furnishing false information to the Controller of Work Passes by submitting forged academic certificates to obtain work passes.” (See here.)

20 of the 25 were sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment, while five were fined $5,000.

The MOM said then that it would “also take action against errant employers and employment agents if they have abetted such acts.”

Also in 2013, the law was amended to stiffen the penalties for such offences.

The forging of educational certificates is now a standalone offence where a guilty person may be jailed for two years and fined $20,000.

Previously, the maximum penalty was a year in jail and a $15,000 fine.

MOM said that the “fraudulent submission of forged academic certificates to by-pass work pass eligibility criteria is a deliberate attempt to mislead the Controller [of Work Passes].”

“MOM will not condone such acts of false declaration, and will take severe actions against offenders,” it said.