The controversy over the appointment of Higher Education Commission’s executive director boils down to different interpretations of the HEC Act 2002 – which prescribes rules over who can appoint HEC employees.
The establishment division appointed the secretary of the ministry of education and training, Major (retd) Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, as the new ED on November 29 and terminated the contract of Dr Sohail Naqvi, who has held the position for the past nine years. Dr Naqvi was transferred to the HEC in 2003 in a Management Position Scale I and promoted to ED on the same scale on contract for four years in September 2004. In 2009, he was given second extension for four years by a 17-member HEC board.
The board that governs the HEC consists of 17-members that include federal and provincial secretaries and vice-chancellors of universities, including private sector institutes. It is headed by the chairman and the PM is the final vetting authority. According to HEC Act, the PM can appoint the HEC chairman and members of the board but cannot have them removed.
The HEC consists of both contractual (MP scale) and permanent employees. The permanent employees were inducted before its transformation from University Grants Commission (UGC) to HEC. Dr Naqvi calls MP scale employees “the heart of the HEC who are running the actual affairs of the Commission.”The ongoing tussle began on July 29, 2012 when the HEC advertised the position of ED, as the second, and legally the last, extension of Dr Naqvi was coming to an end in September 2012. However, a ban was imposed by the federal government on fresh recruitments on MP scale in all departments including the HEC. Thus the appointment process for a new ED came to a halt. On August 27, 2012 the commission renewed Dr Naqvi’s contract for another four years, although the HEC Act clearly states that officials of the MP scale cannot be given an extension for more than one term. Subsequently, the prime minister on September 3 directed the HEC chairman to rescind Dr Naqvi’s extension. Despite the PM’s directive, the 17-member board directed Dr Naqvi to continue till a new ED is appointed as HEC’s affairs cannot be run without an ED. Now, Dr Naqvi, with the blessings of the HEC chairman and board, is not ready to relinquish the charge, whereas the new ED has already taken over. Shafqat Jalil, the press secretary to the PM, said, “The PM secretariat has appointed the new ED as per the recommendations of the Establishment Division, which must have thoroughly studied the rules for appointing of MP scale employees.” Yet HEC supporters maintain the appointment of the new ED is not legal and the power to appoint officers and advisers rests only with the 17-member board. Even the PM’s office and the Establishment Division have no legal powers to interfere in the autonomous functioning of the HEC.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2012.