Universities amendment bill referred to assembly with ‘minor changes’

Governor had returned controversial bill for lack of uniformity, transfer of powers

Hafeez Tunio April 10, 2018

KARACHI: In a move akin to a slap in the face of opponents of the Sindh Universities and Institutes Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, the Sindh Cabinet approved the controversial piece of legislature once again and decided to refer it to the assembly for reconsideration with minor changes.

Recently, Governor Mohammad Zubair returned the bill and objected to its lack conformity to the standards governing the remainder of the country’s institutions of higher learning and the transfer of power from the federal to the provincial Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Since the bill was passed by the assembly on March 9 it has engendered protests and criticism aplenty. Staff and students of public universities in the province have demanded that the law, which they claim snatches varsities’ autonomy, be withdrawn.

The Cabinet meeting chaired on Monday by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah expressed its reservations on the language used by the governor in his observations. "The conduct of the governor cannot be discussed in the assembly. Since the chief minister is an elected representative and is answerable to the assembly, therefore he has been given the powers of appointing vice-chancellors through a search committee.

Bill to regularise teachers to be presented in Sindh Assembly today

Apart from this, proper procedure has been devised in the draft law to remove VCs through an inquiry committee in case serious allegations are proved against them," said the chief minister's spokesperson.

Official sources said that most of the cabinet members cried foul over 20 years of bungling, corruption and mismanagement at universities under the control of the governor’s office. The governor previously enjoyed full authority in varsity affairs.

"Despite the ban on contractual employees, around 250 retired employees were hired at Dow University of Health Sciences. We have now fired these people on the court’s orders," the CM told participants of the meeting, adding that billions of rupees have been embezzled at public universities without proper mechanisms to monitor their affairs.

"There must be a proper watchdog to monitor the activities of VCs, taking action against them if they violate the rules and allegations against them are proven," said Shah. The cabinet decided to send the draft to the law department where minor changes will be made with regards to inspections and inquiries to be conducted by the CM’s office. "Some senior officials of various departments will be included in the inquiry committee. After the amendment is vetted by the law department, the universities and boards secretary will refer the bill to the assembly,” explained official sources.

Speakers term universities amendment bill 'an attempt to take over higher education'

The sources added there will be no need for the governor's assent if the assembly reconsiders the amendment. "After the 18th Amendment, the assembly secretariat is bound to refer all bills to the governor for his signature, which is mandatory for making any bill into an act. If the governor refuses to sign, then the assembly itself has the authority to pass it and make it into an act," said the Sindh Assembly secretary.

Other issues

The Cabinet also approved new External Debt Management Manual (EDMM), Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority budget and discussed rising load-shedding in the city. The members urged the federal government to name the newly constructed Islamabad airport after Benazir Bhutto.

Shah, who also holds the finance department portfolio, said that the objective of the EDMM was to outline the policies and procedures governing external debt management by the Sindh government. He added that it should be used for day-to-day management of external debt activities "where appropriate, diagrams and flow charts are used to facilitate users' understanding of the process and workflow”. He explained that the manual was prepared to attain the desired internal controls over external debt management policies at the provincial level.

Protest against Universities Law Amendment Bill continues

It explains activities relating to external debt management, the need for controls, the nature and content of work processes and importance of aspects such as debt recording, servicing and reporting.

The cabinet also approved a Rs555.17 million budget for the katchi abadi authority. The Rs555.17 million includes Rs200 million worth of government grants and Rs355.17 million from the authority’s own resources. In the budget, 22 posts from grades BPS-1 to BPS-20 have been created and Rs45 million has been allocated for low housing schemes.

The CM was told that Rs325.17 million would be spent on salaries, Rs109 million on non-development expenditures and Rs121 million on development expenditures.

There are 1,409 katchi abadis in Sindh, of which 1,251 have been regularised. Parliamentary Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro pointed out that an old katchi abadi in Larkana was inaugurated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has not been regularised as yet. To this, the CM directed Katchi Abadis Minister Murtaza Baloch to personally visit the scheme and regularise it as soon as possible.

Appointment of prosecutor-general

The Cabinet was informed that prosecutor-general Shahadat Awan has resigned due to personal reasons therefore the post cannot be left vacant for too long. The Cabinet approved the appointment of Dr Syed Fiazul Hassan Shah as the new PG and directed the chief secretary to issue a notification in this regard.

‘Those opposing Universities Law haven’t read it’

The members, on the recommendation of the Labour department, discussed some proposed amendments in the Sindh Employees Social Security (Amendment) Bill, 2018, the Sindh Workers Welfare Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2018, Sindh Employees Old-Age Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2018 and Sindh Minimum Wage (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The meeting was informed that the amendments were proposed on the recommendations of the first Sindh Labour Tripartite Conference held on December 11, 2017.

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