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March 8, 2019

DRAP CEO finally removed for dubious PhD

Top Story

March 8, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has removed its top drug regulator for holding a dubious doctorate degree that he used to burnish his credentials when applied for the position of CEO Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP).

‘Dr’ Sheikh Akhtar Hussain has also been drawing PhD allowance since 2002 on the basis of this degree recognised nowhere in the world. A report in The News headlined “Not only his PhD, DRAP CEO’s appointment also faces questions” last month revealed how he rigged the system to clinch the top slot.

Ministry of National Health Services ordered inquiry into the matter after this report as it wrote to Higher Education Commission (HEC) for the verification of his degree. It replied that the degree-awarding institution, The Open International University, Colombo, is not recognised even in Sri Lanka, let alone in Pakistan.

The ministry removed Sheikh Akhtar on Thursday, almost 10 days after receiving confirmation from the HEC. Intriguingly, Asim Rauf, a close aide of the sacked CEO, has been given the acting charge.

Sheikh Akhtar insisted when contacted in the past about the veracity of degree. Responding to The News’ queries, he had claimed that the university was recognised in Sri Lanka, he though didn’t dispute that it was not in the list of institutions approved by the HEC. A degree unapproved by the HEC can’t be used for job in Pakistan.

Sheikh Akhtar Hussain claimed having done PhD in Pharmacology from The Open International University, Colombo (Sri Lanka). The HEC has negated claim that his degree awarding institution is recognised in Sri Lanka. “The Open International University, Colombo is not among the chartered universities/institutions of Sri Lanka,” the HEC wrote back to the ministry.

The university also doesn’t figure in the “International Handbook of Universities” published by Unesco, it has further been explained. “Therefore, as per policy, degrees awarded by non-chartered universities/institutions cannot be recognised by the Higher Education Commission/Government of Pakistan,” reads the HEC reply sent to the ministry.

Intriguingly, the ministry woke up to this disclosure only after media reports but didn’t bother to scrutinise his credentials at the time of selection done in December last year. Sheikh Akhtar was acting CEO by the time the selection process for the regular appointment was carried out. He was also ex-officio secretary of the policy board that was to constitute the scrutiny and interview committees. He is alleged to have manoeuvred the composition of these committees by inducting his choice officers to influence the decision making, a charge he denied in the past and said he didn’t participate in the meeting when the committees were formed.

However, the fact remains that his documents were not scrutinised during the selection process. Sheikh Akhtar replied to this objection in the past that the committee was supposed to determine the suitability of candidates for the post as per DRAP Act 2012, not to examine education credentials. But he didn’t mention that the process was carried out without framing the regulations in line with this Act which directs to make rules for the working of the above-mentioned committees. Even the Establishment Division’s directions were ignored which demanded the committee to satisfy itself regarding the genuineness of documents.

Sheikh Akhtar worked as acting CEO for almost 10 months before his induction as permanent CEO. He was first appointed by the PML-N government for three months in February but continued for another seven months courtesy a former senior judge.

In response to a question raised in the Senate, Health Minister Amir Kayani had revealed through written reply that during the hearing on April 25, 2018, (10 days before the expiry of Sheikh Akhtar’s tenure as acting CEO) “the senior judge 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 judge 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. Call it a coincidence or well-thought out plan, Sheikh Akhtar, who continued as acting CEO on the verbal order of the judge, got appointed as the permanent CEO. However, an official source dismissed the impression of favouritism on part of the former judge.

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