Parliament: Practical limits to checks in hiring teaching staff

Since American Mikhy Farrera Brochez's forged professional documents were exposed, both Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic have tightened their checks and now verify the foreign educational qualifications of all their staff.
Since American Mikhy Farrera Brochez's forged professional documents were exposed, both Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic have tightened their checks and now verify the foreign educational qualifications of all their staff.PHOTO: ARDEN BARNES FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

No system can completely keep out candidates who lie and cheat, says Low Yen Ling on polys' hiring of Brochez

While stringent checks are necessary when hiring potential employees, there are practical limits and no system is completely effective in spotting problematic individuals.

Ms Low Yen Ling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education, said in Parliament yesterday: "While due diligence may be conducted thoroughly, there is unfortunately no system that is able to exhaustively keep out those who are out to lie and cheat."

She was responding to Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) on the due diligence carried out by Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic when hiring American Mikhy Farrera Brochez.

Brochez, the man at the centre of Singapore's HIV Registry leak, had used forged university degrees to get jobs at the two polytechnics between 2009 and 2012. Ms Low said before employing Brochez, both polytechnics did pre-employment checks by verifying copies of his educational certificates.

Such checks were "in line with the practice of the public sector, as well as many private-sector companies".

She also said he had shown a good grasp of the subject during interviews with the schools' management staff, including those with expertise in psychology.

Dr Intan noted: "I find it a bit strange that the polytechnics checked the copies with the originals. If the originals are already falsified, then they are just checking a false document against another false document."

CHECKING AGAINST A FAKE

I find it a bit strange that the polytechnics checked the copies with the originals. If the originals are already falsified, then they are just checking a false document against another false document.

DR INTAN AZURA MOKHTAR (Ang Mo Kio GRC), on the checks carried out by Temasek Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic when hiring American Mikhy Farrera Brochez.

 
 
 
 

She suggested a more robust process, in which the hiring institution checks back directly with the school that conferred the certificates. Ms Low replied that there is a limit to background checks when overseas institutions refuse to provide such confirmation, citing privacy reasons.

"We are also mindful of not going to the extreme, and risk losing out on valuable talents," she added.

Ms Low also told the House that a child psychology clinic, which Brochez was supposed to help set up in Temasek Polytechnic, "was never implemented, and Brochez was never involved in this initiative".

Since Brochez's forged professional documents were brought to light, both polytechnics have tightened their checks and now verify the foreign educational qualifications of all their staff.

"In addition, since 2014, all our five polytechnics conduct reference checks by checking with the candidate's or applicant's previous employers or referees indicated in the application," said Ms Low.

From February 2009 to January 2011, Brochez was a lecturer in psychology and early childhood subjects at Temasek Polytechnic until his contract expired. He then worked as an adjunct lecturer with the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ngee Ann Polytechnic from June 2011 to April 2012.

Ms Low also pledged that her ministry "will spare no effort to work closely with our polytechnics, our universities and also our ITE (colleges), to strengthen our pre-employment checks and also ensure that the standard of academic rigour is kept by educators in our institutions".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'Practical limits to checks in hiring teaching staff'. Print Edition | Subscribe