Economic Affairs Minister Ahad Cheema on Tuesday urged Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman to continue with the controversial fee policy regarding Aitchison College students, but withdrew from availing the facility for his own children citing a “vilification campaign” against his family.

A day ago, controversy erupted after Aitchison College Principal Michael A. Thompson resigned from his post, citing alleged interference of the Governor House in the management of the college for a year or so.

Sources had said the principal tendered his resignation as a protest after Governor Balighur Rehman allowed a leave of absence and a complete fee waiver for a period of three years to Cheema’s two children.

Sources in the Governor House had claimed that Rehman had passed the fee waiver order under the law. The decision would benefit all the parents who would have to leave the city due to any concrete reason.

Meanwhile, Cheema had questioned what was wrong with the governor’s order. Speaking on Geo News show ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath’, Cheema said the governor had devised a “general policy” for everyone.

He added that the policy approved by the college’s board was meant for the children of all civil servants or anybody else facing problems following their transfer to other stations. Cheema said the governor had sent his wife’s application to the board of governors that had accepted the application for the fee waiver.

In a letter to Governor Rehman today, Cheema said the new policy waiving off the fee if a student was not studying at the college was “just, fair, equitable and against the traditional elitist mindset”.

He said that the governor should “not withdraw the new policy under any nefarious pressure” as the policy would help students and their parents in the future.

However, Cheema added that his family had “suffered mockery, slur and a vilification campaign” since yesterday’s incident and thus: “Under these circumstances, I wish to convey that I do not want to avail this facility for my children, howsoever rightful I may be and just and fair the policy may be.”

Cheema rued that the governor’s order had triggered a “strange and pointless controversy, orchestrated by a principal” who had already resigned, adding that Thompson’s “brazen and high-headed refusal” of policy decisions by the college board and its chairman was unheard of.

“Regrettably, politics has overshadowed the solution-oriented and responsive policy issued by you,” the letter said.

It added that the college’s student body and their parents formed a community, whose genuine needs and compulsions ought to be respected and responded to by the board and the management.

“The Board of Director’s earlier decision and your final order in the matter are steps in the right direction,” Cheema said.

He alleged that Principal Thompson had “at various occasions” offered him individual relief on the “quiet side” regarding the issue which was communicated through “some respectable people who were in the knowledge of the matter”.

“I also want to state that we refused to take any under-the-table deal. This upfront refusal was based on the principles,” Cheema added.

The letter said that the basis of the Cheema family’s applications to the governor’s office was their belief that what they were seeking was “fair, appropriate and in public interest” to improve upon “an iniquitous policy framework which discriminated between rich and not-so-rich parents”.

Separately, a protest outside the Governor House was held by old Aitchisonians and parents of students against the incident that forced the principal to resign. In an announcement a day ago about the demonstration, they had demanded the principal’s restoration and the expulsion of Cheema’s sons.

A letter from the Aitchison College Old Boys Association was also sent to the president of the college’s board of governors, expressing deep concern and registering a protest against Governor Rehman’s fee waiver as it was a “clear deviation from the norms of the corporate governance and prevalent college policy”.

The association urged the board to follow and adhere to rules and regulations strictly in accordance with the law and best corporate practices.

The letter also urged the board and its president to rescind the governor’s “controversial order” as it had “landed a school of impeccable repute into unnecessary controversy”.

Cheema family’s request

Saima Ahad Cheema, the wife of the minister, had filed an application for fee waiver of her two sons before the Punjab governor, stating that she was a civil servant who had been transferred from Lahore to Islamabad in June 2022 and her children were minors who could not be left unsupervised in Lahore. She applied for reservation of seats and leave of absence for both of them.

However, she was later informed by the principal of the college that while the leave of absence had been accepted for her sons, she would have to pay the complete tuition fee during the duration of their absence. She submitted that she could not afford to pay tuition fees to two schools, in Lahore and in Islamabad.

The governor issued orders on March 21, available with Dawn, accepting the representation filed by Saima for a grant of leave of absence to both children with a complete fee waiver for three years with effect from August 18, 2022. Consequently, the orders passed by the principal on November 14, 2022 and Aug 10, 2023, were withdrawn by the governor under the Punjab Educational Institutions (Reconstitution) Act 2021.

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