LAHORE: Ahad Khan Cheema defended his appointment as Higher Education Department secretary before the judicial commission for the inter exam results fiasco on Wednesday, saying though the rules didn’t allow for the appointment of a grade 18 officer to a grade 20 post, this could be and was done at the discretion of the chief minister.
Cheema, who is currently serving as Lahore’s district coordination officer, told the commission that he was not a grade 18 officer, but in “acting grade 19”, a promotion given to officers before they enter “regular grade 19”. Justice Shahid Saeed said if he was not in regular grade 19, he could not ask to be called a grade 19 officer.
Cheema said it was a common practice for officers to be appointed to posts that were meant to be reserved for more senior officials because there was a shortage of bureaucrats in the province.
He said that his appointment as HED secretary or as district coordination officer (both grade 20 posts) had nothing to do with the matter being investigated by the judicial commission.
Cheema denied assertions made by various chairmen of the eight Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) in Punjab about his role in the appointment of Dr Majid Naeem, the IT consultant who designed the new system for the tabulation of exam results.
Cheema said that the Punjab Boards Chairmen Committee (PBCC) had sacked computer technician Yousaf Hamdani in July 2010 and hired Naeem as IT consultant. He said former Lahore BISE chairman Muhammad Akram Kashmiri had introduced Naeem. To a question from the judge, Cheema also denied that Naeem had ever been his classmate or Kashmiri their teacher.
He said there was “obviously” a political element in the protest following the release of the exam results and the arson at the Gujranwala BISE building, but he did not name names. He said PPP leaders had already revealed the truth about the incident in a press conference in Lahore.
The DCO was ardent in his defence, continuing to speak even after the judge indicated that his testimony had been recorded and he was free to leave. “Thank you Cheema Sahab,” the judge said five times, pushing the DCO to wrap up his statement. Justice Saeed also offered him a box of tissues to wipe his brow.
Earlier in the day, Cheema had seemingly sought to avoid testifying in front of the press. He sent a message to the commission stating that he was busy in a meeting with the chief minister. His lawyer Advocate Mian Iftikhar asked the commission’s registrar, Manzoor Hussain Dogar, not to force Cheema to testify while journalists were in the courtroom.
But the commission insisted, and Cheema eventually turned up with his lawyer. Justice Saeed asked the lawyer what he was doing in the room and told him to stay outside while the DCO recorded his statement. The advocate asked why, if the proceedings were to be in-camera, journalists had been allowed inside. The judge told Iftikhar he should have sent a request to appear earlier but now it was too late and he should leave.
Higher Education Department Secretary Ijaz Munir also appeared before the commission on Wednesday. He said that according to the minutes of a PBCC meeting, the board had agreed to pay Naeem Rs500,000 in four instalments as ‘expert fees’, and had given him two instalments of Rs120,000 each.
About Cheema’s appointment, Munir said it was not normal practice to appoint a grade 18 officer to a grade 20 post and he knew of no other instance of this happening in the Punjab.
He said there were faults in the computerised system, but the BISEs had minimised them. The judge said the department had actually handicapped BISEs through a “threatening letter” warning of action against officials who opposed the computerised system.
Dr Naeem, who is currently in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau, is to appear before the commission on November 22.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2011.