ISLAMABAD, Nov 11: The ongoing litigation between the teachers and management of the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF) has put nearly 5,000 students and their parents across the country in an uncertainty.
The confrontation started in May this year when the OPF management sought “expression of interest” for running the affairs of its 25 educational institutions across the country.
The teachers and other supporting staff of the schools and colleges feared that the move would leave them at the mercy of private entrepreneurs who take over the institutions.
These educational institutions are the extensions of the OPF which was established in March 1979 under the Emigration Ordinance 1979. The foundation was registered on July 8, 1979, as a limited company under the Companies Act 1913.
The purpose of the foundation was to safeguard the interests of overseas Pakistanis with its educational institutions set up to provide education to the children of the expatriates living abroad.
In the beginning, the OPF educational institutions were considered to be government entities but in August 12, 2000, the law, justice and human rights division issued a memorandum stating that these institutions were “neither autonomous bodies nor government department” but an extension of the OPF.
Relying on the memorandum, when the OPF management started the process to involve private parties in the educational business in May this year, parents of some students challenged the initiative in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
Later, scores of teachers, who had already been staging protests against the move, also joined the litigation along with the principal of the OPF Girls College, F-8 sector.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui on May 28 restrained the ministry of overseas Pakistanis from privatizing the OPF Girls College.
After the court order, the management put on hold the privatization of all the OPF schools and colleges in other cities, including Rawalpindi, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Gujrat, Khuzdar, Hangu and Mirpur.
Chaudhry Mohmmad Ashraf, one of the parents, told Dawn that the litigation was badly affecting the studies of the students as after getting involved in the court case, the teachers could not concentrate on their jobs.
The courses of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels had to be completed before November but due to the litigation it could not be done on time.
Subsequently, “midterm exams, which were due to begin on November 2, were postponed to the second week of December,” he added.
An official of the OPF College on the condition of anonymity, however, said: “The management had sacked 45 teachers during different intervals and the last downsising was done in September when the contracts of about a dozen teachers were not renewed.”
He claimed that the teachers had been protesting the privatization and moved the court; therefore, the OPF management gradually terminated their services at different points of time.
Syed Kazim Raza Naqvi, one of the counsel for the parents, during his argument in the court, said the OPF educational institutions were operating under the control and management of the ministry of overseas Pakistanis.
He said the ministry and the OPF management on May 17 had published an advertisement in the national press for privatization of the institutions. He said the decision to privatize the OPF schools and colleges was arbitrary, unlawful and against the constitution.
According to the petition, the secretary ministry of overseas Pakistanis and the managing director OPF had invited “expression of interest” to run these schools/colleges.
The invitation was against Section 23 of the privatization ordinance 2000 and minutes approved by the cabinet committee on privatization on February 17, 2009. It added that the advertisement should have been published by the privatization commission, not any ministry or government department.
While the matter was in the court, the OPF management in June this year transferred Shaheena Masood, the principal the OPF Girls College at F-8, as the OPF management was reportedly annoyed over her resistance to the privatization move.
But the court on June 8 set aside her transfer orders. However, the OPF management did not withdraw the transfer order, forcing the principal to file a contempt of court petition against the OPF managing director.
In the meantime, the OPF suspended the principal but the court reinstated her on June 15.
She accused the OPF managing director of harassing and threatening her of dire consequences.
The OPF management in its written reply alleged that the principal had misused her position and committed gross financial irregularities causing huge financial loss to the OPF and the college.
According to the reply, OPF educational projects including colleges are heavily subsidised and sustaining a loss of Rs103.3 million annually on account of administrative expenditure. These are besides capital and other development expenditures.
Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the OPF counsel, when contacted, said the foundation was a private entity and operating under the Companies Act of 1913.