ISLAMABAD: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) — the premier education body in Pakistan — has been found verifying known fake degrees of powerful government officers and this fact has been established by evidence.
The commission has also been re-verifying the “genuineness” of these fake degrees to the media when the commission was contacted to confirm or ascertain their authenticity.Now when the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is in the concluding phase of a probe into different cases of such frauds, the HEC has finally acknowledged verifying fake degrees of senior government officers.
Earlier, there were allegations of fake degrees, or about universities issuing bogus degrees, but now it has been divulged that one can even get a fake or bogus degree verified from the country’s apex education commission if one has skills, power and money, or all.
Verification of educational degrees became an issue or scandal when it was about parliamentarians, but when it came to the verification of degrees of bureaucrats or baboos, things were settled magically and a “change in policy” was made which sorted out all the problems that sons and daughters, nephews and nieces of powerful and mighty, illegally appointed on top government position, would have faced.
Thousands of educated and talented Pakistani youth lost their right to good jobs on merit as fake degree holders got them because of their “powerful merit” and strong connections.What the FIA is doing after many such degrees were proved fake and what is the role of the present government in dealing with all these illegal appointments, FIA investigations and fake degrees, is the subject of the next report on the issue.
The story started during the process of verification of educational degrees of parliamentarians following the Supreme Court orders when under pressure the previous government had to order verification of degrees of all government officers under the federal government in February 2011. However, on the other hand the previous government was also appointing thousands of people affiliated with it politically in government departments without following merit or any criteria and towards the end of its tenure in March 2013 tens of thousands got appointments.
The basic strategy adopted by the previous government to make illegal appointments on such a large scale was to appoint people on temporary basis and then to induct them permanently directly without following complete procedure or by using “Khursheed Shah Committee”. By doing this, many formalities for a permanent appointment, like proper scrutiny of degrees and other record, could easily be ignored.
Initially, government departments asked its employees and officers to submit their original degrees so these can be verified from HEC.
The departments also started officially sending degrees of officers in bulk to the HEC which the commission used to return again officially after verification or rejection. By “change in policy” introduced by baboos to safeguard the political appointments of near and dear ones of ruling elite, a very tricky method was introduced to shield powerful fake degree holders.
The HEC was made to announce that government departments instead of officially sending degrees of its officers should ask officers to get their degrees verified individually from the commission. Had the HEC continued receiving degrees from government ministries and departments officially, it had to respond officially verifying or rejecting degrees of government officers following prerequisites of official communication. In that case, if any fake degree would have been verified, those responsible for such a crime could have been easily identified and caught.
The new policy introduced by baboos and announced by the HEC early last year made it easy for those who got handsome government permanent jobs by submitting fake degrees to bypass even the process of verification of their degrees.
By following the same procedure using which they had obtained a fake degree, they managed to get it verified from some “friends” within the HEC by faking commission stamps and signatures.
The “new policy” announced by the HEC also added that if any department doubts verification through its employees, it can itself contact the HEC for re-verification of degrees. It was obviously ridiculous and the “new policy” was announced to frustrate and fail one-time mandatory verification of degree and it was predefined that no department would ask for any re-verification and will not mistrust “its own” employees. However, when some honest officer in some department contacted for re-verification, it was also done as disclosed in this story.
“The New policy” gave a “right” to fake degree holders to not submit their original degrees to their government departments and instead “get them verified” on their “own”. It’s obvious that those obtained fake degrees would never go to HEC for verification through proper channel and would “verify” their degree as they had “obtained” them.
All problems of illegally appointed government officers on important positions possessing fake degrees were resolved. The HEC continued to vehemently oppose an independent audit of the degrees verified or attested by it or claimed to be verified and attested by it and submitted to the admin or HR departments of the government organizations or ministries.
Independent and honest HEC officials always demanded such an audit given countless complaints of verification. Top HEC officials and responsible officers in the Establishment Division say that they are sure if an independent body is set up to audit and scrutinize the degrees submitted by employees and officers of government departments in their respective admin or HR departments, especially during six and a half years, around 40% of them would be found fake, bogus or unauthorized.
The HEC officials insist that this audit must include an independent scrutiny of degrees verified or attested by the HEC during the last six and an a half years, as many such degrees are surfacing now which are “claimed to have been verified by the HEC” and bear the HEC attestation stamp, but the commission disowns these verifications saying these are fake and stamps and signatures are bogus.
All this makes up a classic case of institutionalized corruption in Pakistan under which different government institutions and federal government ministries and divisions connived to frustrate and subsequently fail the process of verification of degrees of government officers holding key positions, withdrawing hefty salaries and enjoying perks and privileges.
However, responding to this specific point, Director Media HEC Aayesha Ikram said it was wrong to say that any problem was created because of this “change in policy”. “Many people feel uncomfortable while submitting their degrees to their organizations because of fear to lose them. The HEC simply facilitated them to come in person by holding their documents with them and get them verified,” Aayesha added. However, it was not explained how this philosophy of the HEC will work when departments will contact it for re-verification.
Almost everybody in government sector and media knew that majority of those who got jobs during tenure of previous government submitted fake degrees and this fact was never a revealing or surprising story.
However, fake verification, attestation and equivalence by the HEC to powerful government officers was something terribly disturbing. Last year The News sent the data of attestation-ticket-numbers and date-of-attestation of some such dubious cases to the HEC on April 8, 2014 and sought response about the identity of persons whom these degrees, attested by HEC, belonged to. The HEC replied on April 11, 2014 denying sharing information and instead sought the identity of the persons who got these degrees verified. The HEC asked what The News was inquiring from them. Degrees mentioned were fake and wrongly verified by the HEC and result gazettes of the universities whose degrees were submitted were showing different information on corresponding year of examination.
After few months, when the “new policy” was enforced, employees possessing such degrees were asked to get them verified, and surprisingly the HEC verified the said fake degrees as genuine. The News reported a story based on initial information on July 23, 2014.
The HEC was not ready to admit the verification of fake degrees by its employees despite the fact that proofs and dates were being shared with it. The HEC’s own senior officers were acknowledging manipulated wrong verification of degrees in informal discussions. However when the FIA started probing such cases and universities concerned refused to own such fake degrees, the HEC acknowledged, in some case, that it had verified fake degrees.
Complete data of such fake verification of fake degrees could only be presented before the nation if a national level commission is set up to scrutinize and audit such degrees and verifications. The most important thing is the verification of degrees of government officers under provincial governments where the rate of submission of fake degrees is very high.
The following are seven questions of The News sent to HEC last month, HEC’s official replies to these questions and “illustration of case”.
The HEC while verifying a degree issues a unique ticket number which is of different denominations. This will elaborate how officials submitted fake degrees, submitted the HEC-attested fake degrees and how the HEC attested or verified them and even confirmed the same to the media.
Question number 1 relates to a dubious case of degrees and the rest of all are fake degrees, admitted as fake by universities concerned and now finally by the HEC after FIA probe enters into final stages. The FIA knows about the fake status of these degrees, but because of government pressure it hesitates to initiate proceedings against the holders of fake degrees and its high-ups who verified them.
Q-1: HEC Letter No.8-50/HEC/A&A/2013/692 dated April 29, 2013 written by Syed Asim Hussain, Assistant Director for Director General (A&A). The HEC verified a PhD degree of a Chinese university . . . .As the HEC under its SOPs requires and maintains record of all lower degrees while verifying any higher degree, please share years of passing of lower classes by the holder of this PhD degree.
The HEC’s brief response: Passed intermediate in 1977 and passed BSc Honours in 1979.Illustration: Initially, the HEC has denied proving this information and confirmed that all record is examined and that it is fine.
However, now when the HEC shared the data with The News and the HEC’s attention was diverted to the point that BSc (Honours) is a four years degree and could not be completed in two years, the officials admitted that the case is “dubious” and needs in-depth scrutiny.
Q-2: The HEC verified a degree under serial number 443635 dated June 15, 2011. Whether the HEC is sure that all the degrees maintained by this individual are original and not fake? Please provide the name of the degree, year of examination, date of issuance of degree by the university, name of university which issued this degree and the name of person who holds this degree.
The HEC’s response: As per HEC degree attestation system, HEC Attestation Ticket No. 443635 having 500 denomination was allocated to the Original B.Com Transcript issued in respect of Ms. Farzana Kousar by the University of the Punjab, Lahore and was verified as Genuine.
Furthermore, the HEC Attestation Ticket No. 443635 having 300 denomination was allocated to the photocopy of BA degree issued in respect of Mr. Muhammad Mati Ullah by University of the Punjab, Lahore and was verified as Genuine.
Illustration of Q-2: This degree was submitted by one “Snan Khilgi” in a department of federal information ministry. The degree was verified by the HEC under ticket number and date mentioned above in the question.
The data provided by the HEC is of original tickets whose record is also maintained by the HEC and it doesn’t match with the official record of the Government of Pakistan. Only the FIA or the NAB can ascertain who faked documents; the official at his own or he did so in connivance with the HEC. But, as a matter of record, the HEC has officially declared this case as OK and correct last year and its response in this regard was published to The News on July 29, 2014.
Another important aspect of the case is that during a discussion with The News on February 20, 2015 at the HEC attestation office in Islamabad, the HEC officials admitted that this person Snan Khilgi came to them for multiple times with different degrees but those were not verified being “not genuine”.
“However, finally he came with a degree of Al-Khair University which the HEC had to verify as it recognizes that university,” the HEC official said in the presence of Director General Attestations and Director Media.
When The News asked why the HEC entertained him when once his degree was proved fake and why no action was taken against him for presenting a fake degree and the university which finally “issued” a “genuine” degree. The answer was that the HEC SOPs don’t allow it to initiate any legal action against the individual who presents or submits a fake degree except confiscating the degree. It was said that if the again came with another fake degree, the HEC would be unable to take action because of same SOPs.
“Yes, if during any attempt he came up with a degree which according to the HEC SOPs and degree format provided by the university seemed OK, the HEC will verify the degree without taking into account all past instances of provision of fake degree by the same person,” the HEC officials said.
They admitted that despite knowing that a university was issuing a questionable degree, the HEC could not refuse to verify the degree as it recognizes those universities. Asked why the HEC recognizes such fake universities, the officials responded that they had in fact rejected such institutions and initiated action against such degree awarding institutions, but such organizations got stay orders from superior courts and were running and distributing fake degrees. The HEC is left with no choice but to verify such degrees.
Government officials also disclosed that such universities are earning billions of rupees because of these long stay orders.
Despite this elaboration and a correct stance on long court stay orders by the HEC officials of attestation department, the SOPs regarding fake degrees are made by the HEC itself and it could make SOPs to initiate legal proceedings against those who submit fake degrees or at least intimate relevant law enforcement agencies like the FIA or NAB. But, it is not done because of obvious reasons, as any investigation into any case can expose the entire corrupt system. Government officials say only Chief Justice of Pakistan could order withdrawal of long stay orders and immediate disposal of such cases to save the credibility of higher education sector.
Officials reveal that such universities hire top lawyers by paying them millions of rupees as fee, while government departments like the HEC could not afford such lawyers.
Q-3: According to official record, the HEC verified a degree under serial number 417311 dated June 28, 2011. Please share the details of the degree and degree holder as required in above question-2.
The HEC response: As per the HEC degree attestation system, Ticket No. 417311 having 500 denomination was allocated to the Original MA Degree issued in-respect of Mr. Muhammad Afzal by the University of the Punjab, Lahore and was verified as Genuine.
Furthermore, the HEC Attestation Ticket No. 417311 having 300 denomination was allocated to the photocopy of BA degree issued in respect of Ms. Farayha Hassan by the University of Karachi and was verified as Genuine.
Illustration of Q-3 and further HEC version on the point: This degree is possessed and submitted by one Kanwal Iftikhar, a senior government official in an information ministry department. Apparently, the degree is a B.Sc. degree of Punjab University of examination held in June 1994 bearing Roll No-032049, Registration No-92-isw-141 and shows that the student studied at Government College for Women F-6/2, Islamabad. It was verified by the HEC against ticket number and on the date mentioned above. However, the Punjab University confirmed to The News that the information available with it against above roll number and registration number was different and thus the degree was a fake.
This degree, already attested by the HEC in June 2011, was again submitted to the HEC in June 2014 along with a master’s degree (EMBA) issued by one Preston University to the same person. Under its SOPs, the HEC was bound to check all lower degrees while verifying any higher degree and most importantly it even had the result gazettes of these universities for these years. However, the HEC verified these degrees on June 19, 2014. This was second attestation of fake degrees by the commission.
However, the HEC officials say June 2011 verification was fake and never done by the commission and in June 2014, it “mistakenly” verified the degrees without checking the record.
They also admit that no legal action has been initiated against the university which issued a fake master’s degree to this person as the HEC SOPs don’t allow this and there are also court issues.
Q-4: The HEC verified a master’s degree bearing HEC attestation TICKET NO - 846302 dated June 19, 2014. Please provide The News with the exact dates of passing of lower degrees by the applicant, the name of the degrees and institution that awarded those degrees.
HEC response: As per the HEC degree attestation system, Ticket No. 846302 having 800 denomination was allocated to the Original EMBA Degree issued in respect of Ms. Kanwal Iftikhar by Preston Institute of Management Sciences and Technology, Karachi. She submitted a fake/forged BA degree of the University of the Punjab, Lahore. Hence her EMBA degree was confiscated.
Illustration to Q-4: The HEC response to this question is twisted and contrary to facts. Documents available with The News prove beyond any doubt that the HEC verified both the masters EMBA and BSc degrees of Ms Kanwal Iftikhar and returned them which were subsequently submitted to the record of relevant government department.
As everything was fake and relevant universities’ officials were confirming the same, the issue was again taken up with the HEC and FIA also probed the issue. It only happened on February 12, 2015 when the HEC through its letter No-5-3/HEC/A&A/2015/443 written by Azizullah Khan Assistant Director (A&A) and signed Hazrat Bilal Direct (A&A) admitted that it wrongly attested BSc and master’s degrees of Ms Kanwal Iftikhar and that it cancels all its previous attestations and verifications and confiscates degrees.
The letter also quoted that the Punjab University had verified it that the mentioned degree was a fake. This mention of the Punjab University communication is to divert the attention of people and in fact the HEC already had the result details against roll number and registration of the university but despite that it verified the degree. This February 12, 2015 the HEC letter, also available with The News, has been also sent to the FIA by the government department concerned.
When the HEC was asked about authenticity of this February 12, 2015 letter, officials admitted it as a genuine letter.
Q-5: HEC verified a master’s degree result card bearing HEC Attestation No 846305 dated June 19, 2014. Please provide The News with the exact dates of passing of lower degrees by the applicant, name of the degrees and institution that awarded those degrees.
HEC response: As per HEC degree attestation system, Ticket No. 846305 having 800 denomination was allocated to the Original EMBA transcript issued in respect of Ms. Kanwal Iftikhar by Preston Institute of Management Sciences and Technology, Karachi.
She submitted fake/forged BA degree of the University of the Punjab, Lahore. Hence, her EMBA Transcript was confiscated.
Illustration: It is also untrue and twisted response. The HEC verified this document and when the issue reached the FIA, the commission withdrew its initial attestation and verification and admitted in writing that previously it had wrongly verified this document. The written admission of HEC is available with The News.
Q-6: HEC maintains the result gazette of recognized government universities for how many past years?
HEC response: HEC attest/verifies degree & transcripts issued by the HEC-recognized universities/DAIs on the basis of gazettes/online results/specimen signature/hidden features/lists of graduates provided by HEIs etc.
Illustration of Q-6: The question was quite simple. The HEC avoided responding as the result gazettes for the years mentioned in above fraud cases were present with it and thus admitting that it verified fake and bogus degrees, despite having result gazettes, was bit difficult.
Q-7: After publication of July 23, 2014 The News story seeking the audit of fake and bogus degrees, why the HEC vehemently opposed the audit of all degrees verified by it during the last six and an half years despite the fact that all senior HEC officer wanted an independent audit?
HEC response: It is stated that the HEC is providing the facility of cross verification of the already HEC-attested degrees after receipt of the request from employers as well as various government departments/ministries/divisions.
Illustration of Q-7: Despite all this, the HEC is not ready for the audit of its verification process even now and has no consideration of those tens of thousands of poor students who were unable to get jobs despite being on merit and possessing genuine degrees.
However, the director general of the section, who is not directly part of the process, said he had no objection whatsoever if the government, any court or any authority ordered the audit and complete scrutiny of all degrees verified by the commission during any number of past years as his hands were clean. “Rather this should be done and all those degrees which are not yet verified should also be verified,” he said.
The degree of Rasheed Khan, an official of an information ministry department, was proved fake, as the university concerned refused to own the degree submitted by him. An FIR against this officer is registered with the Margalla Police Station.
During discussion on the issues relating to wrong verification of fake degrees, when the HEC officials were asked about the method to ascertain the genuineness of a degree, a senior official replied that they carefully examine the quality of paper of degree and match it with the specimen provided by the university concerned along with examining the signatures on the degree.
It was interesting that they don’t first check the result gazette or check the actual result of the individual from website or data provided by the universities concerned as the above-mentioned two things can be provided to candidates even by one person of a university but the result is prepared by the whole institution and it involves much more persons.