ISLAMABAD, Dec 3: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is again in the headlines. In April 2011, it was the government’s plan to devolve the HEC, which was later prevented through a Supreme Court ruling, and now the extension in the service of its executive director (ED) that is causing a virtual stir in the media.
While Dr Javaid Leghari, the HEC chairperson and a former PPP Senator, claims that the commission has every right to grant extension to Dr Sohail Naqvi as the ED, the government contests his claim saying appointments in the Management Position (MP) scale, under which Mr Naqvi worked, are the prerogative of the prime minister. Hence, his extension has been put on hold.
Mohammad Ayub Qazi, the principal secretary to the prime minister, in a letter dated September 3 asked the chairman HEC to get the process of Dr Naqvi’s extension verified through law and the establishment divisions and report back within seven days.
In the meantime, the HEC management kept on insisting that the government had no role whatsoever in the appointments within the commission.
As a result, the HEC management continued with the extension of Dr Naqvi for another four years. The issue came to a head when the government, overruling the extension of Dr Naqvi on November 28, asked Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, the secretary education and training, to look after the HEC as his additional charge.
Now while the government has even notified the appointment of Mr Chaudhry, the HEC chairman has refused to accept him as the ED. Dr Leghari on Monday even directed the HEC secretariat to only follow orders issued by Dr Naqvi.
Talking to Dawn, a senior official in the prime minister secretariat said nobody in the government was challenging the HEC’s act and its powers of appointment but the commission couldn’t challenge the PM as the appointing authority in the MP scale.
“If today the government accepts this contention of the HEC that it can appoint officers in the MP scale on its own, there are scores of other entities with similar autonomous status which will be asking for the same powers,” said the official.
Since 2002, Dr Naqvi has been working in the MP scale: first in the ministry of information technology and then in the HEC as its member HR. In 2004, he was elevated to the position of ED with the status equivalent to that of the federal secretary.
The issue got the attention of the government when the commission instead of following its own advertisement seeking applications for the post extended the services of Dr Naqvi for another four years on August 27. It may be noted that August 28 was the last date for receipt of the applications. Reportedly, a couple of commission’s 19 members did object to the extension but their observations were overruled with the majority vote.
According to a top source in the HEC, the real issue was not of Dr Naqvi’s extension as ED but the services of nine other HEC employees who were also working in the highly-paid MP scales. “If today, the government accepts the argument of the HEC on the reappointment of Dr Naqvi, the other MP-scale employees will be given the same treatment,” claimed the source. Talking to Dawn, Dr Leghari vehemently defended the commission’s right to grant extension to its ED. “The commission’s act is very much clear on this, and we have even sought legal opinion from experts who have supported our view that the establishment division cannot appoint the ED,” said Dr Leghari.
Regarding the anomaly about the advertisement which the HEC made in the press, Dr Leghari came up with a weak argument.
He said after the advertisement the commission came to know that under the austerity measures of the government new appointments in the MP scale had been banned. As a result, instead of recruiting a new ED the commission extended Dr Naqvi’s services.
To another question, he said he had sought a meeting with the prime minister to explain him the extension of Dr Naqvi, “because I believe he is being misled about the powers of the commission. “Yes, if the government has some legal ground to challenge the HEC’s act, I am willing to follow the law. But as our understanding is concerned, we have made the right decision.”