Students' Scholarship Funds Splurged On Elite Club Memberships

Students' Scholarship Funds Splurged On Elite Club Memberships
Four key officials of the National Endowment Scholarships for Talent (NEST) have been dismissed from service for splurging at least Rs. 25 million to acquire membership in the elites-only Islamabad Club. Two senior bureaucrats are also under scrutiny for approving the funds to finance these four officers' membership at the posh club.

NEST is a national scholarship programme for eligible and deserving students. It is administered as an autonomous public institution, with an additional secretary rank officer of the Ministry of Education and Professional Training heading this entity.

The NEST board of directors (BOD), in a meeting held on 2 November 2021, approved corporate membership for NEST and initially nominated four executive officers - identified as Athar Hussain Zaidi, Faysal Qasim, Qamar Safdar and Quratulain Talha - to be issued "complimentary cards" of Islamabad club membership.
The NEST board of directors had also approved that the monthly subscription charges of the four executives shall be borne by NEST

On 8 March 2022, NEST's Administration and Human Resources manager wrote a letter to the chief financial officer (CFO) to implement the BOD’s direction.

The CFO forwarded this request to then-CEO Mohiyuddin Wani, and the approval was granted in line with established procedure. Wani was transferred out and later posted as chief secretary Gilgit-Baltistan.

His successor Asim Iqbal sanctioned the release of Rs. 25 million to the management of Islamabad Club, for the membership fees of the four executive officers. Afterwards, Iqbal was also transferred to the Cabinet Division as additional secretary.
Since Asim Iqbal released the amount to the Islamabad Club, the Ministry of Education wrote to the Establishment Division recommending Iqbal’s suspension

A senior official of the Establishment Division also confirmed that a letter from the Ministry of Education had been received on the matter. On being contacted, Asim Iqbal's staff gave the standard bureaucratic excuses, implying that the senior government officer might not have much to say in his defense.

The Ministry of Education has also shared the relevant NEST documents with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for forensic analysis, so as to ascertain whether the signatures of Mohiyuddin Wani were genuine or not.

Clarifying his position, Mohiyuddin Wani told media that he was not the board chairman that allegedly approved the memberships. “I did not release even a single penny for the corporate membership of the Islamabad Club,” he said, adding that the NEST officials had sought complimentary cards in a request, which he had approved as per the laid out procedure and in line with precedent. He said he was confident he had done nothing wrong and would fully defend himself at the appropriate forum.

The NEST board of directors had approved the Islamabad Club corporate membership for its officials on 3 November 2021. In March 2022, NEST sought "complimentary cards" for four senior officials in the initial stage, and in June 2022, the NEST funds were allocated for this purpose. In September 2022, NEST transferred Rs. 25 million to the management of the Islamabad Club.
Meanwhile, the four dismissed employees of NEST have challenged their termination from service before the Islamabad High Court (IHC)

The four employees' lawyer pleading their case in the IHC, Shuaib Shaheen, said that these officials had no role in acquiring the membership. He argued in favour of a petition challenging the dismissal of the four employees who, if they remained in service, would have been enjoying elite privileges on funds that were originally earmarked for educational scholarships to deserving students.

IHC Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb sought a reply from the Ministry of Education and Establishment Division, and adjourned the hearing till 25 January. The IHC also halted the Ministry of Education from making fresh appointments to the posts at NEST vacated by the complainant employees.

Incumbent CEO of NEST and additional secretary of education ministry, Waseem Ajmal Chaudhry, confirmed these developments. He said the ministry had taken action against four employees and major penalties were imposed on them. He further added that the competent authority also ordered an inquiry against the senior bureaucrats, and the matter would be clarified in due course.

According to Chaudhry, the Ministry of Education has also asked the management of Islamabad Club to refund Rs. 25 million, as this amount was not disbursed to the elite club in accordance with the applicable rules.