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February 11, 2019

Not only his PhD, DRAP CEO's appointment also faces questions

Top Story

February 11, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s drug regulator has a dubious PhD degree but that’s for impressing upon the ignorant through using the title “Dr” and drawing special allowance of doctorate. However, the real qualification of “Dr” Sheikh Akhtar Hussain appeared to be his links to the right quarters coupled with the abuse of official authority that paved his way to the position of permanent CEO DRAP. He was holding the charge of acting CEO before.

A NAB inquiry against him was ordered to be stopped; the rules applied for the removal of Ataul Haq Qasmi as Chairman PTV and Dr Saeed Akhtar as the head of Pakistan Kidney Liver Transplant were also flouted in the case of the appointment of drug regulator, however, with full impunity. Sheikh Akhtar’s doctorate credentials were not scrutinised when his candidature was considered. Almost entire exercise of selection has been carried out under his supervision. He was simultaneously acting CEO and candidate for the slot of permanent CEO. He was the ex-officio secretary of the Policy Board which set up the scrutiny committee and interview committee.

Since he also held the acting charge of Director Medical Devices and Medicated Cosmetics, he’s the Chairman of Medical Device Board by virtue of this directorship. As he was holding the acting charge of Director Quality Assurance and Laboratory Testing, and by virtue of this position, Sheikh Akhtar was the member of Drug Registration Board and Drug Licensing Board. In response to The News’ questions, he acknowledged holding several positions in DRAP other than acting CEO when he had applied for permanent appointment as CEO.

Sheikh Akhtar claims having obtained PhD in Pharmacology from The Open International University of Sri Lanka. Not only he draws a special allowance from DRAP on the basis of this degree, the title of “Dr” is also part of his name. And the most importantly, he was given additional marks by the selection committee on the basis of this PhD. However, the university which granted him doctorate isn’t approved by the Higher Education Commission. A multiple searches failed to find any website of it and Sheikh Akhtar was reluctant to help in locating it on web as repeated requests to him went unheard. Nevertheless, he insists his degree is genuine, and the university is duly recognised in Sri Lanka. Asked why it wasn’t on the list of the approved institutions of HEC, the degrees of which is valid for job in Pakistan, he didn’t answer this except stating that the HEC wasn’t in existence when he was awarded doctorate.

Dr Obaid, a deputy director of DRAP, has challenged in Islamabad High Court his PhD and the appointment which, he argues, has allegedly been done in violation of the rules. As Sheikh Akhtar was considered for the post of permanent CEO DRAP, the scrutiny committee didn’t verify his degree, to begin with. Being acting CEO, he was ex-officio secretary of the policy board which selects the members of scrutiny committee and interview committee. In the committee under question, his subordinates were members of the committee set up to scrutinise his candidature and of other applicants.

Why didn’t the committee scrutinise his PhD? Section 5 of DRAP Act, 2012, according to Sheikh Akhtar, required the scrutiny committee to determine the suitability of the candidates for the CEO slot, not to verify to their educational credentials. However, what he forgot to refer is Section 12 (2) of the DRAP Act which directs the policy board to make regulations for the working of the above-mentioned committees. The entire process was carried out without framing the regulations. Even the Establishment Division’s directions were ignored which demanded the committee to satisfy itself regarding the genuineness of documents and other requirements.

As the interviews were held by the interview committee set up by the policy board having Sheikh Akhtar its secretary, not only he appeared before the same committee as candidate for regular appointment as CEO, he emerged as the one having scored the highest marks. The committee shortlisted only two candidates instead of three as required by the law, the other candidate was Asim Rauf, a close confidante of Sheikh Akhtar. Asim has now been given the coveted position, Director Quality Assurance, in addition to his appointment as DRAP’s head of Lahore office.

Sheikh Akhtar told The News that he doesn’t believe in friendship on such matters and that Asim’s appointment was purely on merit and competence. As a backgrounder, Asim went for PhD to US and returned without it. His ‘research work’ in US was counted as experience during the selection process although this could have been considered as experience only after the award of the doctorate degree.

Having only two short-listed candidates is violation of the rules as has been done in the case of CEO DRAP’s appointment. One of the reasons of removal cited in the case of Ataul Haq Qasmi was that the panel was not containing three names. Likewise, DRAP CEO was appointed without having the prescribed rules. In the past, one Dr Saeed’s appointment as dean of Sheikh Zayed Hospital was declared null and void because of absence of the regulations.

The Lahore High Court had ruled in Dr Saeed’s case: “Appointment or selection without any guideline or criteria for selection is a recipe for disaster. Recruitment process that is unguided and unstructured can be easily hijacked by the influential and strong of the society thereby depriving the right person the opportunity to hold the post. Such a loose structure allows corruption, nepotism and jobbery to make its way into the system thereby crippling the foundation of the institutions.”

An inquiry was pending against him in NAB. During a suo motu notice, the former chief justice directed NAB “not to interfere in the work of DRAP without first informing the court”. This point has been mentioned in the minutes of the meeting of DRAP’s policy board wherein Sheikh Akhtar’s candidature were under question.

Before his permanent appointment as CEO, Sheikh Akhtar was made acting CEO by the PML-N government for three-month stint in February 2018. However, he continued in this office for almost 10 months courtesy the former CJ. In response to a question raised in the Senate, Health Minister Amir Kayani said that during the hearing on April 25, 2018, (10 days before the expiry of Sheikh Akhtar’s tenure as acting CEO) “the Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan verbally directed the then secretary Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, that Dr Sheikh Akhtar Hussain should continue as CEO DRAP till the appointment of regular CEO.”

Later, through another order in November 2018, the former CJ directed the Health Ministry to prepare a summary “within a period of two days” for the appointment of permanent CEO which was eventually done in December and incidentally, Sheikh Akhtar, who continued as acting CEO on the verbal order of former CJ, got appointed the permanent CEO. However, an official source dismissed the impression of favoritism on part of the former CJ.

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