ISLAMABAD, Dec 17: The Supreme Court on Monday put an end to the months of wrangling in the Higher Education Commission over the post of its executive director by suspending the controversial officiating arrangements and ordering a regular appointment in the post within one month.
“Prima facie we are of the opinion that the prime minister/chief executive cannot appoint (Education Secretary) Qamar Zaman as acting ED of HEC, therefore, the notification of his appointment is suspended,” ordered Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, as head of a three-judge bench which heard petitions against the appointment.
Petitioners Prof G.A. Miana and Prof Attaur Rehman had questioned the government acting as a regulator of the autonomous HEC a week ago.
But the court also felt that the extension of four years granted by the HEC's governing commission to Prof Dr Sohail Naqvi in the post of ED was improper. It directed the commission to fill the post immediately temporarily and process in a transparent manner the 57 candidates already on its list and appoint a regular ED within a month.
These orders brought visible calm to the HEC, and hopefully the infighting that Prof Naqvi's extension in August triggered will come to an end on all sides.
Sources in the HEC said their management was happy that Mr Qamar Zaman was gone. His stay was marked by a wave of postings and transfers in the HEC and symbolised government interference in managing higher education in the country.
HEC Chairman Dr Javaid Leghari had pleaded with the Supreme Court that the autonomy of HEC be “recognised and restored”, that he be provided police protection and that the appointment of the acting executive director by the Establishment Division be declared void. His first two requests were met but not the third one, and he was said to be happy for that.
In a press release, the HEC employees association hailed the Supreme Court for not validating the extension granted by the HEC to Prof Sohail Naqvi on August 27, 2012.
That decision caused divisions within HEC ranks and provoked a confrontation between the federal bureaucracy and the hierarchy of the autonomous HEC.
In its order on Monday, the Supreme Court made it clear that the immediate stopgap ED would automatically cease to act when the regular ED is appointed within a month and the acting one would leave without any right.
The HEC granted extension to Prof Naqvi for a full four-year term when he was to retire from the service the same month and the post had been advertised way back in the spring. Prof Naqvi was among the 57 candidates who responded to the advertisement.
In the court, the HEC took the position that it granted extension to Prof Naqvi because a ban on recruitment prevented it from appointing a new ED. But it could not produce anything official to substantiate the claim.
In any case, instead of approving the extension, the Establishment Division sent a letter to HEC suggesting that it was the prime minister's prerogative to extend the tenure in a senior post and not the commission's. The HEC's response, sent to the PM secretariat, insisted that being an autonomous body it enjoyed that authority.
In return, the Establishment Division issued a notification on November28, giving the federal education secretary Mr Qamar Zaman the additional charge of the post of ED, ensuing a standoff that the Supreme Court orders broke on Monday.