There is a row gathering strength regarding a large number of allegedly fake degree-holders in parliament, who wish to contest the next elections. This issue has arisen because of the failure of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to properly scrutinise their documents and to verify their authenticity before the last elections. They have been allowed to continue in power and rule over the destiny of this nation despite the decision of the Supreme Court that the ECP should check their documents. Around three years have passed since this decision was made by the Supreme Court, but the officials of the ECP decided to ignore these orders and the organisation has only just woken up. It was reported in a local newspaper that out of 13,490 candidates, there were about 2,000 fake degree-holders who had contested the last elections for seats in the national and provincial assemblies and that they will again be contesting the upcoming elections.
Broadly, there are three different kinds of persons who may be involved in the present fake degree-holders scandal. The first category is that of persons who have bought their degrees from fake international institutions that sell genuine-looking degrees against a payment. Such institutions are dime a dozen and this can easily be checked by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) that has a comprehensive and authentic list of recognised universities of the world. The second category is that of persons who would have forged a degree by having one printed. This would look exactly like a degree that belongs to a genuine university. This can be checked, provided the university cooperates. Since the parliamentarians involved are powerful and often adopt a menacing attitude if their wishes are not fulfilled, some of the vice chancellors can be browbeaten into submission and may refuse to cooperate with the HEC. The third category is of persons in whose case, the vice chancellor is acting on the orders of higher-ups and actively colludes to create false documents. In this scenario, it becomes necessary to check the school certificates of these individuals. The HEC has been very rightly asking for the matriculation and HSC certificates for verification, according to its normal procedures, which these persons have refused to supply. The ECP is under pressure by politicians that there should be no requirement to check school certificates but it must not yield to such pressures.
Another action that can be taken is for the HEC to examine the annual attendance records of the persons who claim to have got their degrees from various universities and to check their mark sheets in various tests that are conducted regularly. These records should be scanned for each individual under scrutiny and placed on the ECP’s website. If these false records are made public, then such persons will easily be caught by the students in the classes of those years. However, this will again require the cooperation of the vice-chancellors of the universities concerned.
Recently, the ECP declared 27 of the persons whose degrees had been found to be fake or invalid by the HEC, to be holding genuine degrees. Legally, it is only the HEC that has the right to verify degrees under its Ordinance, and the ECP has no legal right to do so. Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim appears not to have studied the Ordinance of the HEC in this respect. If the ECP had any reservations on the evaluation of the degrees by the HEC, it should have referred the matter back to it for reconsideration. There is still time. It must cancel its declaration about these parliamentarians and seek the HEC’s opinion and then abide by that. Otherwise, the issue will be challenged in the Supreme Court.
This recent development highlights the fact that four of the members of the ECP are nominated by political parties, which means that they may not be neutral and may act in the interests of the parties that nominated them. In this scenario, one cannot expect the ECP to be fair and unprejudiced. The chief election commissioner is the only neutral person in the Commission but he is not empowered to take decisions on his own. The ECP, therefore, needs to be revamped by removal of the four persons and the nomination by the Supreme Court of four new persons of integrity.
None of the persons involved in holding fake degrees should be allowed to contest the next elections. If they do not succeed in satisfying the HEC that they have genuine degrees, criminal cases must be initiated against them.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2013.