Over three weeks after a court-ordered deadline to appoint a permanent Higher Education Commission (HEC) chairperson passed, the government does not even have a list of potential candidates to show.
The appointment was to be finalised by February 12, the deadline given by the Islamabad High Court.
Unfortunately, the closest the government has come to making this monumental decision is the appointment of Member National Assembly Khawaja Asif as head of the search committee.
Former HEC chief Javaid Laghari’s term expired on August 26, 2013. On November 12, 2013, the government handpicked University of Engineering and Technology Peshawar (UET) Vice Chancellor Imtiaz Hussain Gilani for the post on acting charge. His tenure ended on February 12, 2014.
A six-member search committee to determine the right man for the job, headed by Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, was announced by the PM in January. It was later pared down to three for reasons unknown. The remaining members were eminent scholar Dr MB Shami and economist Dr Ishrat Husain, a former State Bank chief.
Some 103 applications were received from across the country. Of these, 21 names were shortlisted and 18 candidates called for interview by the search committee. On February 11, the committee chose three names — HEC Executive Director Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, National Textile University Faisalabad Rector Dr Niaz Ahmad, and former Karakoram International University Vice Chancellor Dr Najma Najam.
The extensive selection process became an exercise in futility last week, after the PM rejected all three names a month after they were nominated. He did, however, constitute a new committee for yet another round of interviews.
On the other hand, Iqbal told The Express Tribune on Thursday that the PM had invited him to talk about the three names and there was a possibility that he might review them before formally having Asif begin fresh interviews.
“The process has been put on halt for a while,” the minister remarked.
The new four-member committee comprises Federal Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid, State Minister for Interior Baligur Rehman, Special Advisor to the PM Tariq Fatimi and Principal Secretary to the PM Javed Aslam.
Iqbal was ordered to head the committee again and repeat the process, but he refused to go through the process again. Asif was thus nominated head of the search committee, Rehman said.
The shortlisted names include Dr Attaur Rehman, Dr Javaid Laghari, Imtiaz Hussain Gilani, International Islamic University Islamabad Rector Dr Masoom Yasinzai, Prof Qasim Jan, University of Sargodha Vice Chancellor Dr Mohammad Akram Chaudhry, and University of Gujrat Vice Chancellor Dr Nizamuddin among others.
Sources in the Planning Commission have revealed that one name was added to the shortlist at the eleventh hour. Moreover, a sitting MNA from the incumbent government also tried to include the name of a vice chancellor, but did not succeed. The sources cited these as the main reasons for the PM rejecting the previous list of three and ordering a fresh round of selection.
Rehman reinforced this statement, saying that the PM deemed it necessary to review the names to ensure merit-based appointment.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2014.