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Says share in Rs48 bn budget, admissions and scholarships for nephews, nieces of politicians and revenge of MPs with forged degrees are behind govt’s move to take over HEC
Islamabad: Pakistan Academy of Sciences chairman and founder chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Professor Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman on Tuesday termed the appointment of Federal Secretary Ministry of EducationMajor Qamar Zaman on the position of HEC executive director against the legal process and contempt of Supreme Court decision.
He spoke up for the autonomy of HEC in a press conference organised after the recent tension between government and HEC administration over the appointment of HEC executive director. Professor Dr. Khalid Mehmood Khan and Professor Dr Shami were also present in the press conference.
Rehman said that the government’s move to decide major appointments in HEC is a plot against the autonomy of the commission. “It is clear that the commission has final jurisdiction on the matter of appointment of officers of the HEC on MP scales. The secretariat of the commission is bound to implement this decision of the commission.” He said that the decision is illegal as under the present law that governs the operation of HEC, it is only the 18-member commission that has the powers to appoint all officers, servants and advisors. “The prime minister’s office or the Establishment Division has no power under law to interfere in the autonomous functioning of HEC, although the prime minister is the controlling authority of the HEC. The PM has only power to appoint it’s chairman who must be an internationally eminent scholar as per law, but he cannot remove the chairman or appoint other officers of HEC,” he explained.
He said that the commission can also formulate its own rules and regulations. “This level of autonomy was deliberately incorporated in the law at the time that HEC was being set up in 2002, as it was visualised that nepotism, cronyism and corruption would creep into this organisation if the government was allowed to meddle in its functioning, as has happened in so many organisations in Pakistan.” He said that the HEC has thus been performing its functions independent of any government interference for the last 10 years and that is one key reason for its outstanding success.
He termed the government’s decision a direct affront and open contempt to the order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued on April 12 last year in which the court quashed a government attempt to shred HEC into pieces as a part of the devolution process.
“The Supreme Court had declared at that time that action of the government was unconstitutional and had decided that the HEC status could not be changed,” he said. The exact words of the Supreme Court decision were “The HEC shall continue discharging its functions and duties as it had been doing in the past”.
He pointed out that the HEC has been appointing all officers with the blessings of the various governments including those on MP scales for the last 10 years adding that these positions were formally created by the Finance Ministry and so HEC has not broken the law in any manner.
Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman said that there could be many reasons why government decided to face contempt of the Supreme Court and take over the functioning of HEC. The first, he said, is HEC’s Rs48 billion annual budget that has helped to uplift the universities of Pakistan so much so that there are now several that are ranked among the top 500 of the world in international rankings whereas there were none till 2004. “With crooked politicians and government officials in abundance, many are dying to get their fingers into this pie.” Secondly, he said that control of HEC would also give them the clout to coerce the universities to grant admissions to nephews and nieces and to dole out foreign scholarships to favourites, something that has not been possible thus far because of the culture of strict merit that has prevailed in HEC since its inception.
“In a government where wheeling and dealing is the norm, an organisation that takes decisions solely on merit sticks out like a sore thumb. The transformation of HEC into a “normal” government department that “obediently follows the commands of those in power” suits many interests.
The third and most important reason in his opinion was that the HEC has incurred the wrath of a large number of Parliamentarians when it pronounced that 51 of them had forged their degrees in order to become eligible for elections and another 250 probably had also forged their degree documents as they refused to supply their original degrees and mark sheets in spite of the Supreme Court having so ordered. “What better way to protect themselves than to destroy the very institution that threatens their existence as parliamentarians?”
He said that what is happening in HEC must be seen in the larger context of the plight of science and education in Pakistan. “A series of sinister events have unfolded in the last few years that appear to be linked to an overall systematic strategy to destroy these vital sectors so that we will always be at the mercy of foreign masters for all our technological needs.”
He said that the government has closed down two key institutions that have an important bearing on Pakistan’s future including the National Commission of Biotechnology and the National Commission of Nanotechnology. “It was also decided to lower the level of the highest national science body, the National Commission of Science and Technology which previously could only be chaired by the prime minister of Pakistan — now anyone nominated by the Prime Minister can chair it, thereby considerably diminishing its clout.”
He said that the HEC has also been under attack with the budgets of universities slashed by about 50 per cent, and the powers of the Executive Director as Federal Secretary taken away.
Pakistan Cyber Force