Probe finds $7m spent on GCU ‘ghost’ foreign faculty

Updated November 12, 2019

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The GCU Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences received a major share of the FFHP worth Rs638 million from the HEC for the payment of salaries and air fare to the foreign faculty. — Bunny's Photography/Wikimedia Commons
The GCU Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences received a major share of the FFHP worth Rs638 million from the HEC for the payment of salaries and air fare to the foreign faculty. — Bunny's Photography/Wikimedia Commons

LAHORE: An internal inquiry has found dubious payments amounting to $7 million (Rs638m) to ‘ghost’ foreign faculty members of the Government College University (GCU) from 2003 to 2013 and called for a detailed probe by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The GCU Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences (ASSMS) under Higher Education Commission (HEC) Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme (FFHP) had hired faculty members from universities abroad for teaching, researching and supervision of students from 2003 to 2013.

The ASSMS received a major share of the FFHP worth Rs638 million from the HEC for the payment of salaries and air fare to the foreign faculty.

The ASSMS office prepared a report and collected details of the payments made to the foreign faculty members hired from 2003 to June 30, 2013.

According to the report, 58 foreign faculty members were hired with duration ranging from few months up to eight years in some cases. The faculty members were paid monthly salaries which were deposited with their accounts opened with the help of the school in a local bank.

During 2003-2013 the officials of ASSMS directly responsible for the disbursement of funds received from HEC under the FFHP, included ASSMS director general from 2003-2014 Dr Allah Ditta Raza Choudary and finance and administration director from 2003- 2014 Ejaz Malik.

Panel recommends NAB investigation into amount received by Abdus Salam School from 2003-13

On the HEC side, the officials responsible for this programme and disbursement of funds to ASSMS included former chairman Dr Attaur Rehman, former executive director Dr Sohail Naqvi and former FFHP project director Wasim Hashmi Syed.

Incumbent ASSMS Director General Prof G Murtaza formed a three-member committee to verify the payments made to foreign faculty. The committee members include ASSMS Prof Amer Iqbal, visiting Prof Fiazuddin Zaman and administrative and finance officer Muhammad Imran Khan. The committee concluded that approximately Rs638m were given to ASSMS by the HEC for FFHP.

The faculty members spent few weeks or months in Pakistan and it was not reported in letters exchanged with HEC [while demanding the monthly salaries of foreign faculty members] that most of them were not present in Pakistan. Most of the faculty members were short-term visitors to spend few weeks or months at ASSMS but the HEC and the GCU were told that these are regular faculty members.

The report says: “There was no direct communication between the HEC and the foreign faculty members. The email addresses of the faculty members on the application form for the FFHP were those of Dr ADR Choudary, who was director general of ASSMS. Foreign faculty members were not even aware of the offer details and other terms and conditions.”

“The correspondence with foreign faculty shows that they did not receive the salary in many cases and the salaries were being deposited with a local bank [and how they were being withdrawn if the foreign faculty was not present in Pakistan].

“If the cheques were cashed when the account holder (foreign faculty member) was not present in Pakistan then clearly the bank officials were also involved in the fraud.

“If the cheques were made out to someone other than the account holder then clearly that person is involved in the fraud. Some faculty members in their replies have mentioned signing blank papers. If these also include cheque books then clearly they knew what they were involved in.”

The report further says: “Rs638m were received from HEC and foreign faculty members were not present in Pakistan for substantial part of the time, indicates that ASSMS was running a huge ghost faculty programme.”

“This could not have happened without the consent of the then director general, Dr Choudary, and director finance and administration Ejaz Malik.”

The report further says: “It is estimated, based on invitation letters (provided by ASSMS staff) and correspondence with foreign faculty, that there is a discrepancy of approximately Rs500m, and more precise figure can be obtained after getting immigration record.

“FFHP ran for 126 months which means that ASSMS received, on average, approximately Rs5m per month. ASSMS officials could not have run this huge long-term embezzlement scam for so many years without the help and connivance of the officials of the GCU and the officials of the Higher Education Commission. This also shows utter incompetence of GCU and HEC officials who spent hundreds of millions of rupees of taxpayers’ money on a ghost programme.”

The committee recommended that it was clear that a substantial portion of HEC’s Rs638m had been spent on a ghost programme therefore this report should be shared with the HEC and other stakeholders, including the Punjab government and the governor, who is also chancellor of ASSMS.

It further recommends that duration of physical presence can be determined using immigration record. “The money was withdrawn from bank accounts of foreign faculty when they were not present which indicates that bank officials were also involved in the embezzlement. Therefore the case should be referred to a government agency such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).”

GCU Vice Chancellor Asghar Zaidi said: “The situation is an embarrassment for everyone who is associated with the institute. We will commission a full investigation into the matter. We will deal with all those directly or indirectly involved. We will evolve a system of checks and balances so that no such irregularity would happen at the GCU in future.”

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2019