Top court bars politicians with fake degrees from poll

Pakistan’s top court today ordered the lower judiciary and the election commission to take stern action against politicians who contested the 2008 elections with fake bachelor degrees. Offenders must be convicted and barred from contesting national elections on 11 May.

The Supreme Court ordered all law enforcement agencies to complete criminal proceedings under the Pakistan Penal Code against bogus degree-holding parliamentarians by 4 April.

It also directed the Election Commission of Pakistan, or ECP, to take action in line with the constitution and provisions of the Peoples’ Representation Act, which do not allow dishonest and fraudulent participation in elections.

Having a university degree was a prerequisite for contesting the elections in 2008, and in 2010 the Supreme Court ordered the ECP to take action against members of parliament who were found to have presented bogus degrees in order to qualify as candidates.

But under intense political pressure, the election commission failed to complete this task – until the court resurrected the issue and summoned the secretary of the ECP to explain what was stopping it implementing the 2010 court order.

The case was heard by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Present before the bench was ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed, who informed the court that the commission had cross-checked the degrees of 1,170 members of national and provincial assemblies who contested the 2008 elections – and found 69 of the qualifications to be either bogus or suspect.

The verification exercise had been performed by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), he told the court.

Ahmed admitted that 34 cases of forgery, under various articles of the Pakistan penal code, had been sent to district police and district courts – but except for two cases, the rest “had not been decided yet”.

The court then passed an order to provincial high courts to collect the latest information from the lower judiciary and inform the Supreme Court within two days.

An ECP member who did not wish to be named told University World News: “We will bar all fake degree-holding former MPs from contesting the 2013 elections who get convicted by the courts.”

The ECP secretary assured the court that the degrees of all those submitting nomination papers to contest the looming 2013 general elections would be verified through the HEC. The chief justice responded: “Those who cheated are cheats forever, as cheating the nation once is a blemish forever.”

Local news channels reported the chief justice as also saying during this week’s case: “No one should remain under any delusion. Those contesting the election will be subjected to all types of scrutiny.

“Why has action not been taken against fake degree holders so far? No other matter can be of more public interest than this.”

Pakistan’s top judge commented further: “Enough is enough. Fake degree holders have not only deceived the nation but also made a mockery of their mandate. Such elements don’t deserve any leniency.”

The court then directed the electoral and higher education commissions to speed up the process of verifying the academic credentials of former parliamentarians from national and provincial assemblies that have been dissolved as a constitutional requirement to hold free and fair elections under a caretaker set-up.

Some 190 parliamentarians refused to provide the intermediate and matriculation certificates required to authenticate their bachelor degrees.

One prominent case involves the degree of Sheikh Waqas Akram, who was education minister in the outgoing government.

The court is yet to take up that case, in which the petitioner alleges that Waqas forged his A-level certificate to be eligible to take BA examinations, which he passed. Waqas claims to have done his Cambridge A-level in 1995.

HEC sources, however, have disclosed that the A-Level certificate of Waqas is forged, as the Cambridge International Examinations responded thus: “Having searched our record we are unable to match the number of his [Waqas’] certificate with details supplied.”

“It is a shame that a person having a bogus academic record was the education minister of the country,” Masoom Yasinzai, vice-chancellor of Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University, told University World News.

“This matter should be dealt with with iron hands, as the issue of fake degrees has put the credibility of our entire education system at stake.”

On Wednesday the HEC formed a special committee that will liaise with the ECP to speed up the process of degree verification, in the light of the Supreme Court order.