—HEC’s working group lauds NAB for initiation of an inquiry
ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) decided on Monday to conduct an inquiry against the alleged illegal appointment of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, who is about to complete his tenure.
The appointment of Mukhtar Ahmed as HEC chairman opened a floodgate of criticism because the criterion adopted to appoint him to the post was dubious. His appointment had also been challenged in various courts of Pakistan.
Eventually, in a meeting chaired by NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal on Monday, it was decided to carry out complaint verification against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and officers of the Establishment Division in the case of alleged illegal appointment of Mukhtar Ahmed.
Higher Education Working Group on Higher Education Reforms welcomed NAB’s decision to investigate alleged illegal appointment of HEC chairman. The working group said that such inquiries would be greatly helpful in discouraging illegal and non-transparent appointments of heads of institutions in the higher education sector.
The spokesperson of the working group said that many stakeholders had raised serious concerns over the appointment of HEC chairman by ignoring merit. In this regard, a detailed report was also prepared, he added.
The spokesperson said that the working group believed that the effective functioning of the higher education sector was directly linked to the appointment of capable senior academicians through a transparent selection process. He also demanded the prime minister, who exercises control on the commission’s matters, to ask the current HEC chairman not to perform his official duties till the conclusion of the NAB inquiry.
Dr Mukhtar Ahmed was appointed as head of HEC in 2014, which was among some of the few prestigious posts in Pakistan. It is pertinent to mention here that HEC was the only higher education regulatory body with more than Rs 90 billion budget, besides having complete control of monitoring affairs of around 180 public sector universities.
According to details obtained by Pakistan Today, the appointment was made in sheer violation of court orders, existing laws and principles of merit and transparency.
Sources said that the official summary number 1(1) Minister/PD&R/2014 sent to the then prime minister on February 12, 2014, ignored the eligibility criteria laid down in the HEC Act 2002 and the advertisement published in the newspaper for the job.
They alleged that a discriminatory self-formulated criterion was adopted while proposing three names to the prime minister, as the summary was prepared by the ‘Search Committee’ constituted for the selection of HEC chief under the chairmanship of the then Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal.
The committee proposed three names to the prime minister, including that of Dr Mukhtar, Engineer Dr.Niaz Ahmad Akhtar and Professor Najma Najam, for the prestigious slot.
The criterion adopted for the appointment of the chairman was in blatant violation of the guiding principles laid down by the Supreme Court (SC) in its famous judgment in the ‘Khawaja Asif versus the Federation of Pakistan’ case.
It was said that the apex court had directed all public offices to strictly observe the principle of fair play and select the best suitable candidate for a given post on merit and on the basis of the candidates’ abilities, experience, qualities and a probe record of accomplishment to match the needs of the appointment in question.
It was further stated that the candidate for the slot should preferably hold a PhD degree as announced in the newspaper advertisement for inviting applications because he/she would be required to provide leadership in the higher education sector with a large pool of academicians holding PhD degrees.
Besides, the candidate should possess a clear vision for the future of higher education in Pakistan, relevant leadership experience in this field and a good understanding of the HEC’s mandate and scope. Moreover, the candidate should preferably be under the age of 65 years.
Interestingly, these factors as part of the selection criterion were not mentioned in the advertisement that appeared in newspapers on January 12, 2014. The factors were also not in accordance with the laid down criterion stated clearly in section five of the HEC Act 2002.
The HEC law states: “The controlling authority [i.e. the prime minister] shall appoint a person of international eminence and proven ability who has made significant contributions to higher education as a teacher, a researcher, an administrator or as chairperson on such terms and conditions as it may determine.”
Under this section, the search committee was supposed to evaluate the candidates on the basis of their “international eminence” and “proven ability” in the light of their “significant contribution to higher education.”
However, sources said that apparently, the committee ignored several short-listed candidates who fulfilled all these conditions.