Plight of KP’s public sector universities
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
The SOS had the familiar, old pathos. It hardly had the makings of any breaking news. But that was what it boiled down to. Last week Vice-Chancellor of the University of Peshawar (UoP) Dr Mohammad Asif issued a notice informing the employees - big and small - that UoP was facing an acute financial crisis. The notice stated that it would not be possible to pay the salaries of January on first of February. The news spread like wild fire and the notice became viral on social media. Some television news channels took the VC on Skype to get his side of the story. The VC confirmed that monetary crisis was there. However, he said that he had at his disposal some amount of money (hostel and tuition fees) out of which he could pay salaries to a part of the staff. He assured the viewers that he was in touch with authorities on the matter. He said that negotiations were going on with Higher Education Commission (HEC) and provincial as well as the federal government to get a bailout package (as an immediate relief) to put at rest the anxiety of the teaching and the non-teaching staff.
One did not hear any voice being raised in support of the white-collared UoP employees whom the impending starvation stared in the face. One did hear, ironically, the demand by elected Senators, MNAs and MPAs that in view of the disorienting inflation and price hike the government should immediately announce 100 per cent raise in their emoluments. (No doubt the inflation in January surged up to 14.6 per cent, the highest in 12 years.) The legislators also demanded that in terms of perks and privileges they along with families should be allowed to travel in business class. The aristocratic demands came when drivers of ordinary transport vans on roads in Peshawar and elsewhere pushed out the shoe-shine boys and white-wash men for not having in pockets the required number of coins to pay the bus fare.
Problems in transport sector and education sector have deeper roots. Apart from UoP, two other – Gomal and Agriculture – Universities in KP have been suffering from chronic financial difficulties. Some universities have been functioning for more than half a century and every year senior professors reach the retirement age. Every professor on retirement has to be paid Rs10 million as commutation or gratuity. This leads to monetary emergency. Moreover, the vice-chancellors recruit employees without need or justification. After recruitment even they cannot find out where the newly-recruited employees are actually working.
One is not necessarily attempting any comparison but it is amazing how privately-run educational institutions are doing so well without carrying a begging bowl by the side. In Peshawar one can see the Convent School for girls on the Mall in Saddar, Saint Mary’s School on the confluence of Khyber Road and Warsak Road, Saint Francis School in Hayatabad, Institute of Management Sciences (IMS), Institute of Management and Learning (ILM) in Phase-5 of Hayatabad, City University and its chain of Peshawar Model schools and colleges, branches of City School, Beacon House School, among others. These institutions have neat and clean buildings, qualified staff, elaborate pick-and-drop transport system, the most modern computers and affordable tuition fees. No wonder they are giving a tough time to government-controlled schools and colleges.
In a separate development, one had an interesting update. The contents were not immediately available for comment but on January 31 the regional office of FIA in the KP metropolis submitted to Peshawar High Court (PHC) the report of its confidential investigation into various aspects of Peshawar’s mega project called the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The report comprising more than 500 pages mostly contained the relevant documents.
It may be recalled that two petitioners – Fazle Karim Afridi and Adnan Afridi – had challenged the construction of BRT-related structures adjacent to their homes in Hayatabad. Similarly, in another petition a lawyer named Isa Khan had requested PHC to direct BRT contractor to construct overhead bridges and underpasses for pedestrians at a distance of not more than 100 meters.
BRT had been battling legal challenges from day one. Initially the project was challenged in PHC on multiple grounds. However, on seventh of December 2017 PHC decreed that the construction of BRT was legal. It was on July 17, 2018 that Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth of PHC ordered NAB to conduct an inquiry into BRT’s transparency. He gave this direction after taking exception to inordinate delay in the completion of BRT, ever-rising cost of its construction and awarding of the contract. PHC had directed NAB to submit its report before fifth of September 2018. As the coincidence would have it, a bench of the Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice Saqib Nisar suspended the PHC order and the initial NAB report was not made public.
In November 2019, PHC directed NAB to conduct a probe into various aspects of BRT. It observed that for a stretch of road measuring 27.37kms, the estimated cost of BRT was Rs66.437 billion. This came up to Rs2.42 billion per kilometer, which appeared exorbitantly high. There were complaints of mismanagement due to which three project directors were sent packing home.