Wednesday June 19, 2024

Govt under fire for sacking Banuri

By Mobarik A. Virk
March 28, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Government has come under severe criticism for sacking Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri with Lahore University of Management Sciences founder Syed Babar Ali pointing fingers at Dr Attaur Rehman, whom he accused of now “likely to oversee whatever will remain of Higher Education.”

In a letter addressed to Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood, the acclaimed businessman who also served as caretaker finance minister, wrote, “I was the Convenor of the Committee which selected Tariq Banuri. It seems that he has now been sacked, the HEC's role is being severely curtailed via an ordinance, and the likes of Dr. Rehman are likely to oversee whatever will remain of Higher Education."

While referring to the popular adage: “You do not need a Nuclear bomb to destroy a nation. Just hand over Education to incompetent and dishonest people!” Babar Ali urged the federal minister to protect the HEC “from such machinations. “Be bold if you have any interest in the future of Pakistan!” he wrote.

He further wrote: “I was a member of the team from 13 countries of the Task Force during 1997-1999 sponsored by UNESCO and the World Bank to report on Higher Education and Society in Developing Countries. Armed with this Report, I requested then Minister of Education in Islamabad, Ms Zubeda Jalal to set up a Task Force in Pakistan to develop a vision for our own needs.

“I was Co-Chair of this task force with Dr Shamsh Lakha, and we presented the Report to President Musharraf and his Cabinet in 2001, as a result of which HEC was born! ... Unfortunately, Dr Attaur Rahman was appointed the Chairman, and during his tenure billions of rupees were squandered.”

Meanwhile, Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood responded that they would look in to the matter to address it.

Reliable sources confirm that Dr Attaur Rehman was indeed the factor that triggered the government’s apparently hasty decision to amend the HEC Ordinance, as Dr Tariq Banuri refused to tolerate or ignore the government's “patently corrupt action of giving Rs.30 billion to Dr. Attaur Rahman,” who is a close confidante of the prime minister and currently serving as chairman of his ‘Task Force on Science and Technology’.

According to these sources, Dr Attaur Rehman had submitted several projects costing billions of rupees each, “with hugely padded budgets, weak or non-existent justifications, and total lack of accountability, and the PM Office has actively intimidated government officials to accord approval despite their shoddy quality. HEC was seen as an obstacle to the channeling of funds to Dr Attaur Rehman.”

Simultaneously, the HEC was recently directed by the PM Office to exempt Dr Attaur Rahman's institutions (HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry, etc.) from accountability systems, and to keep funding them without asking for any performance standards.

“This was the turning point, as Dr. Banuri refused to implement the directive of the PM Office, arguing that only the HEC Commission could exempt Dr Attaur Rahman's institutions from performance evaluation,” the reliable sources claim.

Thus, while the scope of the draft amendment to the HEC Ordinance is wide (i.e. reducing the tenure of HEC Chairman and members from 4 to 2 years and the federal government assuming the authority to appoint its Executive Director), the immediate motivation behind its hurried approval by the Cabinet Committee is to sack Dr Banuri.

In the past couple of years, the HEC has undertaken major reforms of the higher education sector including the introduction of Associate Degree Programme, which has replaced the traditional BA and MA degree programmes with 2-year and 4-year Associate Degree programmes aimed at producing skillful graduates.

The HEC has also introduced new under-graduate and PhD policies. The future of these reforms, senior faculty members at a federal public sector university believe, is now at stake.

Apart from Syed Babar Ali, the voices of criticism came from both academic and political circles. A Group of Concerned Academics, in their Open Letter to the prime minister titled 'The Ultimate Price for HEC Reforms,' said "Dr Banuri is the most qualified and capable Chairman HEC has ever had and his dislike for 'spend now, think later' and 'quantity over quality' approach that HEC has been so used to since its creation is a much needed and welcome shift in policy and practice at HEC."

The PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal also came hard on the government, as his twitter post stated: "Anti-education IK regime after sell out of SBP is attacking another nat’l institution #HEC becuz it is refusing to follow IK friend’s personal agenda. Chairman tenure being reduced from 4 to 2 yrs unlike SBP where increasing from 3 to 5 yrs. HEC is being turned into a sub deptt."