Monday March 04, 2024

Is health a family affair?

Wife and son of Secretary Health Amir Ashraf Khawaja have got jobs in the health departments in the first year of his tenure.

June 29, 2021
Secretary Health Amir Ashraf Khawaja. File photo
Secretary Health Amir Ashraf Khawaja. File photo

ISLAMABAD: Wife and son of Secretary Health Amir Ashraf Khawaja have got jobs in the health departments in the first year of his tenure. The secretary’s wife has been inducted into the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Medical University (SZABMU) and his son into the Pakistan Medical Commission. Both of the health establishments fall under his administration.

A BS-22 officer, Amir was posted as Secretary, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC), in May last year. Dr. Shirin Amir, his wife, was inducted in December last year as research associate. She is M.Phil by qualification. Three months after her appointment, she was made part of a project carrying out clinical trials of corona vaccine as co-investigator. According to an insider, she draws Rs400,000 under the head of this project. The salary of Rs80,000 was notified on her appointment letter is in addition.

Amir admitted that his wife was employed at the university during his tenure but insisted that SZABMU was not under his purview. However, The News confirmed from the rules of business uploaded on the website suggesting that the university was among those 33 health establishments which fall under the administration of the Ministry of NHSRC. (When shown the rules of business, he graciously acknowledged his correction.) Likewise, SZABMU’s Act of Parliament mentions the role of the administrative ministry that also includes the appointment of additional secretary-rank officers in the syndicate.

Regarding her wife’s participation in the project, the secretary said he was aware that SZABMU was conducting a phase 3 experiment for Lungfing Chinese vaccine. “She is part of that project. Her position is that of a Co-Principal Investigator, for which the Chinese company was paying [Rs100,000] to her. I am told it has been discontinued.”

The Pakistan Medical Commission, where his son is employed, also comes under the administrative control of the ministry and Amir is a member of its all-powerful council, which takes important decisions ranging from the medical education to the services and salary structure matters of the PMC. Hamza Ashraf Khawaja, son of the secretary, got an appointment letter in March this year as a software engineer.

When The News asked this question from PMC officials, they said the recruiting board came to know about his relationship with the secretary only after his induction which, they said, was purely on merit as Hamza was a brilliant candidate. “He applied on merit and was interviewed by an independent panel and approved by [human resource] committee of which the secretary is not a member,” said a top PMC official reacting to his appointment.

The secretary has a somewhat similar response in defence of his son’s appointment. “My son has joined the PMC at an entry level position on his own merit. He is an IT graduate from University of Waterloo [which is] ranked among top 10 in the world,” he told The News. However, going by his curriculum vitae he submitted to PMC, it was noted that Hamza is not a software engineer by degree. His major is in mathematics and minor in Computer Sciences.