LAHORE: An internal inquiry conducted by Government College University (GCU) has found payments worth Rs638m having been paid to “ghost” foreign faculty members in the Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences (ASSMS) from 2003 to 2013.
The committee headed by current ASSMS director-general Professor G Murtaza found that most of the money provided by the HEC under the Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme (FFHP) to hire faculty members from overseas universities had been misappropriated.
According to reports, 58 faculty members were hired from foreign universities while their monthly salaries were deposited in local banks where their accounts were opened with the help university authorities.
ASSMS officials found to be involved in the programme include former ASSMS director-general (2002-2004) Dr Allah Ditta Raza Choudary and former finance and administration director (2003- 2014) Ejaz Malik.
Officials involved in the programme from the HEC’s side include former chairman Dr Attaur Rehman, former executive director Dr Sohail Naqvi and former FFHP project director Wasim Hashmi Syed.
According to reports, the foreign faculty members had only spent a short period of time in Pakistan (few weeks or months) while salaries kept flowing in.
The report says: “There was no direct communication between the HEC and the foreign faculty members. The email addresses of the faculty members on the application form for the FFHP were those of Dr ADR Choudary, who was director-general of ASSMS. Foreign faculty members were not even aware of the offer details and other terms and conditions.”
“The correspondence with foreign faculty shows that they did not receive the salary in many cases and the salaries were being deposited with a local bank [and how they were being withdrawn if the foreign faculty was not present in Pakistan].
“If the cheques were cashed when the account holder (foreign faculty member) was not present in Pakistan then clearly the bank officials were also involved in the fraud.
“If the cheques were made out to someone other than the account holder then clearly that person is involved in the fraud. Some faculty members in their replies have mentioned signing blank papers. If these also include cheque books then clearly they knew what they were involved in.”
The report adds: “Rs638m were received from HEC and foreign faculty members were not present in Pakistan for substantial part of the time, indicates that ASSMS was running a huge ghost faculty programme.”
“This could not have happened without the consent of the then director-general, Dr Choudary, and director finance and administration Ejaz Malik.”
The report further says: “It is estimated, based on invitation letters (provided by ASSMS staff) and correspondence with foreign faculty, that there is a discrepancy of approximately Rs500m, and a more precise figure can be obtained after getting immigration record.
“FFHP ran for 126 months which means that ASSMS received, on average, approximately Rs5m per month. ASSMS officials could not have run this huge long-term embezzlement scam for so many years without the help and connivance of the officials of the GCU and the officials of the Higher Education Commission. This also shows utter incompetence of GCU and HEC officials who spent hundreds of millions of rupees of taxpayers’ money on a ghost programme.”
The committee recommended that it was clear that a substantial portion of the HEC’s funds granted to ASSMS had been spent on a ghost programme therefore this report should be shared with the HEC and other stakeholders, including the Punjab government and the governor, who is also chancellor of ASSMS.
It further recommends that duration of physical presence can be determined using immigration record. “The money was withdrawn from bank accounts of foreign faculty when they were not present which indicates that bank officials were also involved in the embezzlement. Therefore the case should be referred to a government agency such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).”
GCU Vice Chancellor Asghar Zaidi said: “The situation is an embarrassment for everyone who is associated with the institute. We will commission a full investigation into the matter. We will deal with all those directly or indirectly involved. We will evolve a system of checks and balances so that no such irregularity would happen at the GCU in future.”