The Higher Education Commission (HEC) board of governors stripped the commission's embattled chairman, Dr Tariq Banuri, of his powers, members of the board confirmed on Tuesday, just a few weeks after he was restored to the position by the Islamabad High Court.
The move came after the secretary of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MFEPT), who is also a member of the HEC board of governors, issued a resolution, which was supported by a majority of members, to transfer Dr Banuri's powers as chairman to the commission's executive director.
Dr Banuri was appointed chairman HEC in 2018 on a four-year term and was supposed to retire in May this year. However, he was removed from the post in March 2021 on the basis of an amendment to the HEC ordinance 2002 through a presidential ordinance that reduced the chairman’s tenure from four years to two.
The federal government has already challenged before the Supreme Court the Jan 18, 2022, restoration of Dr Banuri on the post of HEC chairman and sought to set aside the IHC short order restoring the chairman on the post.
Filed through Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman, the government in the petition argued that the amended ordinances had been given retrospective effect with clear intendment and that the Jan 18 short order of the IHC was liable to be set aside.
In the latest development, MFEPT Secretary Naheed S. Durrani issued a resolution on Feb 7, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, seeking transfer of the powers retained by Dr Banuri to HEC Executive Director Shaista Sohail until the matter was sub judice.
"The powers shall be delegated to Executive Director Shaista Suhail to ensure transparency, promotion of consultative process, smooth and efficacious execution and implementation of all the orders, decisions, directives, and policies of the Commission according to the true spirit of the Commission as provided in the Ordinance," the resolution reads.
It also demanded that the HEC executive director be allowed to continue as the chairperson of the commission until the appointment of the new head.
The resolution further proposed that the selection board constituted by the HEC chairperson, through a Jan 27 notification, be declared void for being contrary to HEC rules. "The process carried out by Selection Board be declared illegal because of not having the quorum," it added.
The resolution was circulated among the 21-member board of governors of the HEC for approval and was endorsed by at least 14 members, thus prompting its provisions to take effect immediately.
The resolution means that while Dr Banuri will remain the HEC chairperson until any court order, he will have no authority to make administrative decisions.
Dr Iqbal, one of the members who voted in favour of the resolution, confirmed to Dawn.com that "14 members, including me, endorsed the resolution initiated by the Ministry of Education and Professional Training."
Another member of the board who wished to remain anonymous also confirmed that the resolution was endorsed by 14 members.
Meanwhile, in response to a query by Dawn.com, Dr Banuri said he had seen the "so-called resolution circulated among the Commission", adding that "prima facie, it appears to be a case of contempt of court, and should have been avoided".
"Such moves will distract the HEC from working towards its real goal of excellence in higher education, promotion of the welfare of students, and ensuring accountability and transparency," he said. "They will also involve HEC unnecessarily in further legal controversies.
"It would be advisable to avoid such conflicts and move forward. People should not be so frightened of accountability as to be willing to go to any lengths — including threatening the whole system — in order to protect their empires."
The blame game
Last year, Dr Banuri had levelled serious allegations against the government-appointed HEC member Dr Ataur Rahman.
After his removal, several policies initiated by Dr Banuri were reversed by the HEC.
In an interview on a Youtube channel, Dr Banuri had alleged that he had apparently been removed for starting accountability of three HEC-funded research centres supervised by Dr Rahman.
He had also alleged that these centres got around Rs1 billion funding annually but their outcome was "unsatisfactory", adding when he asked for accountability of these centres he was directed by the federal government not to do so.
He had also alleged that his objections to the “so-called knowledge economy” project under Dr Rehman, which required funding of Rs30 billion, also did not suit the government.
He also alleged that he was being pressured for launching a public-private partnership in universities.
However, Dr Rahman last year rejected the allegations.