Fake degrees of parliamentarians

Bogus educational certificates of parliamentarians
Lahore, July 26: The mountain of evidence coming from country's legislatures during the last two months or so that over 10 per cent of legislators are possessing phony degrees, as it may just be the tip of an iceberg as nobody actually knows as to how many politicians, doctors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educationists and engineers etc may still be holding prized offices in both public and private sectors by falsifying on their resumes.

Similarly, in absence of any state oversight to determine the validity of the claims by job applicants or those seeking promotions at the departments falling within its domain, the federal government is yet to issue concrete policy guidelines to initiate action against any of the public sector employees, who may have been pompous about their foreign degreesómany of which may turn out to be mere diplomas if a thorough enquiry is conducted. In fact, no orders have surfaced yet from the government, under which it could be compulsory for all public sector departments to get the educational credentials of their respective employees verified from the degree-issuing authorities.

It goes without saying that the private sector may soon take the lead in this regard for its own good, but it is imperative that a government policy is announced for the government staffers, who are actually holding the reins of the state's administrative machinery and framing policies. It is irony that no steps have also been taken by the federal government till date to investigate the extent of the problem and prevent the high-profile fraudsters thriving like pests on its pay roll, from playing with the lives and destiny of Pakistanis.

With Pakistan likely to be inundated with bogus educational certificates, the Education Ministry would rather do well at this point of time to take a leaf out of India's book to curb the menace of forged degrees, instead of slating the Higher Education Commission hierarchy for exposing the counterfeiters proposing and making laws in country's assemblies. In January 2004, the University Grants Commission of India requested all the Indian universities to get computer micro chips installed on degrees awarded to their students, in a bid to avoid the circulation of fake university degrees. The theme of this idea was to store all information pertaining to a particular student in microchips, which could then be embedded in the official degrees awarded by the university.

According to this concept, particulars like the student's name, name of the university, title of the course, marks secured and year of passing etc, were to be stored on the chip, which could then be read through special screening devices attached to a computer to check the nuisance of sham degrees and hence minimize the chances of degrees being duplicated. This idea, though deemed extremely feasible by experts at the time it was floated, could not be executed in India because of the fact that the country had one of the largest networks of higher education found anywhere in the world with over 320 universities and 16,500 colleges falling under its jurisdiction.

Lack of finances remained the major hurdle in executing this idea of awarding hi-tech degrees in India during these last six years or so, because to implement this initiative of the University Grants Commission of India, New Delhi would then have to install the special screening devices at all venues where there was a need to verify the authenticity of the degrees.

In Pakistan's case, given the much smaller size of its higher education network, this idea of issuing degrees with embedded microchips could at least be borrowed from India.

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HEC chairman cannot be sacked, says Atta
Islamabad: The founding Chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, has comprehensively spelled out the commission's status, specially when it has been put under undue pressure by the government on the fake degrees issue.

"The government's whim to gain a political control over the HEC like other institutions is almost impossible with its incumbent team, from top to bottom, comprising well-reputed, honest and clean professionals who are unflinching in discharging their responsibilities," Rehman said on Saturday in a detailed talk.

He made it clear that the HEC Chairman, Dr Javed Leghari, Executive Director Sohail Naqvi and all members not only enjoy a legal protection but are also fully capable to counter politically-oriented moves to make the commission answerable to Ministry of Education. "The HEC can not be pressurised on political basis," he added.

The degrees verification, he said, has caused a panic among political circles despite the fact that the HEC is fulfilling its obligations in accordance with existing laws and the Supreme Court judgment. "The HEC is an organisation indigestible for those wishing to establish a controlled and manageable body," he said.

He explained that the laws provide a legal shield to HEC Chairman Dr Leghari to continue for four-year from the day he assumed his position. "He, being a competent person, is lucky to have a team, put in place on merit, to face and reject all kind of pressure."

Rehman went on to say that HEC is passing through the verification of degrees of the parliamentarians to pave way to punish the elements who submitted phoney documents. "Education ministry is playing a political game by obtaining control over the degrees, totally illegal and unfair," he said.

He said HEC, carrying out an appreciative verification task, has not committed a crime that the government and specifically the education ministry is targeting its bosses. "Dr Leghari is not a political man but a professional, and his team, inducted in my tenure, is competent to defy education ministry's illegal orders and come up to the peoples wishes to expose fake degrees holders," he said.

The HEC, he said, is purely an independent and autonomous body achieving an excellence in education field among International Universities since its establishment in 2002. "Only prime minister is the appointing authority for HEC chairman but he cannot remove him except under two conditions, mental condition of sitting person or on corruption charges," he said.

Rehman said that Dr Leghari is mentally sound and has never indulged in any corruption.

HEC, he said, is neither a subordinate department of any ministry including education department nor is it responsible to comply with directives of other institution except to implement the court order or respond to prime minister.

He recalled that HEC replaced University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2002 ending a rein of exploitation on part of the education ministry when it worked under it. "Every one knows what a gory picture our universities presented at that times," he said. He expressed fears that the government was trying to have managed the HEC by bringing it under the education ministry. "This step will be destructive and tantamount to ruining the education," he said.

The government, he said, would have to change the laws if it wanted to achieve its nefarious goals. "Changing laws is not so easy as the people are now aware of the role of HEC which has made remarkable achievements," he said.

Rehman, a pioneer of HEC since it was established in 2002, had resigned from HEC chairmanship in 2008 in the era of present PPP led government in protest against the non-provision of the grants to the students sent abroad on scholarships. "Had I not resigned, no one could have removed or terminated me from the position," he said.

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Experts blast education minister for interfering in HEC
Islamabad: Legal experts say neither the Federal Education Ministry nor its minister finds any mention in the 3,112-word Higher Education Commission (HEC) Ordinance 2002, and no role has been provided in its affairs in any context.

They say if the Education Ministry had any relevance under the HEC ordinance or any other law for verification of degrees, the Supreme Court would have referred to it in its last month's judgment in the Rizwan Gull case in which the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was directed to check the MPs' certificates and prosecute the cheats.

Prominent constitutional expert Justice (R) Tariq Mehmood said that the HEC's role was different from that of the Education Ministry.Tariq Mehmood said that the HEC report on degrees would be acceptable in any court of law while the ministry's findings would have no weight.

"Primarily, it is the job of the HEC to verify degrees and the Education Ministry or education minister does not figure anywhere," he added.Another expert referred to a case currently before the Supreme Court relating to the degrees of two MPs of Balochistan in which it has sent their certificates to the HEC, not the Education Ministry, for verification.

After the 18th Amendment, he said, the Education Ministry's role has been further eroded because the subject of education is to be handled by the provinces.These comments contradict the position taken by Education Minister Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali to gain control over the HEC, especially in relations to the process of verification of university degrees of the lawmakers is alien to the HEC ordinance.

However, the prime minister, who has been named as the controlling authority in the law, has powers but even he can't sack the HEC chairman except for the specific reasons listed in the ordinance.

Under Section 6, the HEC chief may not be removed from office before the expiry of his four-year term, save on proven charges of corruption, inefficiency, permanent disability or failure to attend two consecutive HEC meetings without intimation in advance. The chairperson or any member may, by writing under his hand addressed to the controlling authority, resign from his office.

According to its preceding section, the prime minister appoints a person of international eminence and proven ability who has made significant contribution to higher education as teacher, researcher or administrator, as HEC chairman on such terms and conditions as he may determine.At no place in the ordinance, the prime minister has been given unbridled powers by the law as Section 3 says he "may supervise" the HEC affairs.

The law does not allow the controlling authority to overrule any decision taken by the HEC. However, under Section 4, he may refer any of its decision to the HEC for reconsideration. All HEC decisions are to be expressed in terms of the opinion of the majority of its members present and voting. In the event of an equality of votes, the chairperson or, as the case may be, the member presiding the meeting has a casting vote.

A careful reading of the law makes it clear that the HEC is an autonomous body having been assigned a specialized job that can't be interfered or tampered with by any government functionary leave aside the exuberant education minister.

In the opening of the ordinance, spelling out the objective of its promulgation, brings in its ambit the work of verifying the genuineness or otherwise of university degrees of their holders. It says whereas in the interest of improvement and promotion of higher education, research and development, it is expedient to provide for the establishment of HEC and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."

The section enlisting the powers and functions of the HEC ordinance is very elaborate. Some of them justifying the process of authenticating the MPs' degrees in which the HEC is currently engaged in causing a storm in the official quarters says, for the evaluation, improvement, and promotion of higher education, research and development, the HEC will advise the federal and provincial governments on proposals for granting a charter to award degrees in both public and private sector; determine the equivalence and recognition of degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded by the institutions within Pakistan and abroad; develop guidelines and facilitate the implementation of a system of evaluation of performance of faculty members and institutions; perform such other functions consistent with the HEC ordinance as may be prescribed or as may be incidental or consequential to the discharging of its mandated functions.

Furthermore, for the evaluation, improvement, and promotion of higher education, research and development, the HEC cause evaluation of the performance of institutions; prepare, through consultation with the institutions, plans for the development of higher education and express its opinion on all matters relating thereto; prescribe conditions under which institutions, including those that are not part of the state educational system, may be opened and operated.

The HEC consists of the chairman, secretaries of education, information technology and telecommunication division or scientific and technologic research division to be nominated by the controlling authority; four nominees of the provincial governments; seven persons of international eminence and proven ability with significant contribution to higher education as teacher, researcher or administrator provided that at least one of the members will be a woman; one member to be a Rector or Vice-Chancellor appointed by the controlling authority out of a panel of three persons suggested by a committee consisting of all vice-chancellors of public sector universities to be set up by the HEC and two members will be persons of eminence from the private sector who have made significant contributions in the field of higher education or research and development.

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HEC gives clean chit to its senior official
Islamabad: Though Higher Education Commission (HEC) gave a clean chit to its high-ranking official in fake degree case, but it did not provide any answer about alleged tampering of a key digit in the degree secured in 1988, the sources said.

Well-placed sources said that the issue of fake degree of Director Human Resource Management Malik Arshad Mehmood raised its head some 18 months ago and HEC approached Karachi University for verification of a degree.

Karachi University then confirmed that Malik Arshad Mehmood secured 319 marks out of total 700 in second year annual LLB examinations held in 1988. The copy of his degree showed that he did first year or Part I of LLB from the Punjab University.

The copy of the degree having serial number 001242 available with 'The News' clearly showed that last digit '8' of 1988, the year in which Malik Arshad Mehmood did his LLB, is handwritten whereas first three digits are composed on a typewriter.

The sources said it is yet not clear why last digit '8' in 1988 was not typed and how it was allowed to be written by hand as there should be no permission to write it in such a manner. One of senior officials of HEC said at that time specimens for degrees and marks sheets were printed one time and they would use them for whole decade, adding they print only first three digits in those degrees and marks sheets and last digit was written by hand.

The data showed that Malik Arshad Mehmood secured privileges and promotions on the basis of the law degree when University Grants Commission in a letter issued on September 8, 1991 stated, "LLB degree is a professional and such degree holders are eligible to compete for the post where Masters degree is required qualification in the relevant field."

It is pertinent to mention here that the issue of fake degree of the HEC's official has surfaced at a time when it is extensively involved in verification of degrees of the elected representatives on the directives of the Supreme Court.

HEC Director General (Accreditation and Attestation) Rahim Bux Channa said that they verified the degree of Malik Arshad Mehmood from Karachi University and "his degree is absolutely original and all allegations over it are baseless." The news

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Crucial HEC meeting on degree issue
Islamabad: Top officials of the Higher Education Commission will hold a crucial meeting on Monday to discuss its role in the verification of lawmakers' degrees.

The Election Commission and the education ministry have disputed the HEC's authority to verify a university degree issued in the country and abroad.

The HEC officials are likely to take a tough stand on the checking of degrees at the meeting to be followed by a press conference, according to sources.

ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmad Khan and Education Minister Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali in their recent statements questioned the HEC's authority to verify the degrees of elected representatives.

"I think the HEC should clarify with full force its position because with every passing day it is getting mired in the issue of degrees," said a HEC official.

The meeting will also discuss financial problems being faced by the commission. The sources said that HEC Chairman Dr Javed Leghari would brief the members on his recent meetings with the president and the prime minister.

The HEC also is planning to verify academic certificates of thousands of faculty members of all 132 degree-awarding universities in the country.

It has written to presidents, rectors and vice-chancellors of public and private sector universities, asking them to verify academic testimonials of their teachers, learnt through reliable sources.

Initially, the HEC wanted to do the job by itself, but after realising the magnitude of the assignment it asked the universities to carry out the exercise and submit their report as soon as possible.

"We know it is not an appropriate time to carry out this exercise when the media is giving too much coverage to the issue of lawmakers' degrees, but the HEC chairman insists that it is the right time," a top official of the commission said.

In reply to a question about an assistant professor of the International Islamic University whose degree of doctorate is reported to have been found fake, the official said that an inquiry had been initiated and its findings would be shared with the media. Dawn

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