PAKISTAN: Commissions lock horns over fake degrees

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) and the Election Commission of Pakistan have locked horns over the verification of fake university degrees held by members of the federal and provincial assemblies, as the scandal spread to qualifications obtained at high school.

The election commission last week asked the HEC, which is responsible for verifying the authenticity of certificates, not to overstep its remit and stick to checking only bachelor degrees.

But the HEC believes many members of parliament possess apparently original bachelor degree certificates some of which may have been obtained on the basis of fake school-leaving qualifications, which would make the degrees invalid.

In an obvious tussle for power, the HEC wrote a letter to the election commission asking it to provide copies of the intermediate and metric certificates of 428 lawmakers.

Election commission officials denied receiving the letter. It later issued a press release saying it had told lawmakers to provide the certificates, and suggesting it had issued the request for certificates directly rather than through the HEC.

According to the latest update on the degree investigation process, which began in August, the HEC has received 1,084 degrees of provincial and federal legislators for verification. It has returned 603 degrees to the election commission after checking, declaring 545 to be genuine and 58 to be fake or invalid.

It is believed that the number of phony degrees could go up if verification of certificates below the bachelors level is taken up by the HEC.

"Many parliamentarians did not submit even copies of their educational certificates to the election commission at the time when they filed their nominations, and the election commission never bothered to check whether one of the prerequisites to contest election was fulfilled or not," Abid Sher Ali, Chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education, told University World News.

Sher has written to the election commission demanding that it suspend the membership of parliamentarians who have not submitted their degrees to it. But no action has yet been reported.

However, the membership of 148 MPs was suspended for not providing declarations of their assets to the election commission - a legal requirement in Pakistan for members of parliament and other public office holders.

Interestingly, the parliamentary membership of Education Minister Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali was suspended for a few days, until he filed a declaration of his assets.

Sardar, who belongs to the ruling People's Party, said on the Pakistan television channel GEO News: "I am accountable to the parliament not to HEC. It is the education ministry, not the HEC, which is legally authorised to review the degrees of parliamentarians and we shall review the HEC decisions regarding fake degrees."

Separately, the row between HEC and the education ministry has led to a reduction in the HEC's powers, after its funds were cut and the government decided to strip the status of federal secretary (government minister level) from the HEC executive director.

This decision barred the HEC from sending budget-related or other proposals on higher education directly to the prime minister or the federal cabinet, or arguing the case for university funding at that level.

The HEC now had to go via the Ministry of Education headed by Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali.

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