The National Assembly witnessed a clear division among the political parties on the issue of devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), as the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) alleged that those opposing the devolution were creating hurdles in the provincial autonomy.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) termed the HEC a federal subject, the PPP remained focused on a limited role for the HEC in the federation, while the Awami National Party (ANP) sought the devolution of the Commission to the provinces. The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) members had differences of opinion, even amongst themselves.
Khurram Dastgeer Khan of the PML-N said that the HEC is an independent institution with no links to the provinces. He said that according to item-12 of the Federal Legislative Part-II of the Constitution, “Standards in institutions for higher education and research, scientific and technical institution” is a subject for the federation.
He made it clear that the PML-N is not against provincial autonomy, but accused the government of creating confusion on the issue regarding the HEC.
Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination and chairman of Implementation Commission Mian Raza Rabbani strongly supported dissolving the HEC, saying that hurdles were being created in the process of granting greater provincial autonomy under the 18th Amendment.
He said that some forces were obstructing the process. The devolution of education, including higher education, will be completed by June 30, this year, under the 18th Amendment, he added. “Some forces do not want to complete the process of provincial autonomy. If these forces do not stop their conspiracy then we will expose them with documentary evidence and then they will have to respond,” Rabbani warned.
He said that an autonomous body would be constituted to coordinate higher education issues at the federal level. It will work as a standard higher education commission and continue to work for the verification of degrees and the release of foreign funds for higher education to provinces. He said that the devolution of the HEC would not affect the status of scholarships.
He said the HEC itself does not generate funds and is being funded by the federal government. Funds amounting to Rs7.5 billion have been released well before time, even this month he said.
ANP’s Pervez Khan said that the education sector has been transferred to the provinces under the 18th Amendment and there is no need for the HEC. He said that under the 18th Amendment, the federation could not deny the right of the provinces.
Amir Muqam of the PML-Q said that the HEC issue was in the court, and yet they were discussing it in the House. He said it would be better if the HEC was transferred to the provinces. Over a dozen parliamentarians of the PML-Q submitted a resolution against the dissolution of the HEC in the National Assembly.
The resolution, initiated by Marvi Memon of the PML-Q, and signed by 14 MPs, states that the HEC’s devolution was against the Constitution and the 18th Amendment. The text of the resolution which has been submitted in the National Assembly states: “We do not appreciate ministers misleading the public saying that they have devolved the HEC to the provinces, whereas, they can’t do so under the 18th Amendment since parliamentarians have already signed the 18th Amendment to have the HEC functions fall under the federal legislative list Part 1 clause 16, 17, 32 and part 2 clause 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13.”
PPP-Sherpao chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Shepao appreciated the 18th Amendment, saying that nobody was expecting provincial autonomy in the form that was mentioned under the historic amendment. He said that provinces must be burdened with more responsibilities which they will then learn to fulfill.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2011.
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