Over the last year and a half, the University Grants Commission had recommended taking action against at least four vice-chancellors of public universities upon investigation of their alleged corruption and irregularities.
But the recommendations apparently fell on deaf ears as the education ministry has so far let the VCs go unpunished, even after allegations were found to be true. This has resulted in a recurrence of irregularities at the highest echelons of education institutions, said educationists.
The institutions in question are Rajshahi University, Noakhali Science and Technology University, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University in Gopalganj, and Begum Rokeya University in Rangpur.
Of those against whom the UGC recommended taking action, the VCs of RU and NSTU finished out their tenures and the Begum Rokeya University VC's tenure is set to end soon. Only the BSMRSTU VC resigned in September 2019, in the wake of heavy criticism.
"Such inaction against the VCs after probes that found them guilty are disappointing," said UGC Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah.
"It gives a wrong message and a kind of impunity. Other top university administrators could feel that they would also go without punishment even after committing wrongdoings," he told The Daily Star.
A UGC member said if stern action had been taken after the probe, such VCs would not have got the scope of doing such irregularities again.
"Some of them have become reckless in the absence of punishment," said the UGC member.
UGC is currently investigating allegations at over half a dozen other universities, in addition to these four.
NO ACTION AFTER PROBES
In October last year, the UGC submitted a probe report to the education ministry and the Prime Minister's Office after finding evidence of corruption and irregularities by the RU VC and pro-VC in appointing teachers at the university.
In the probe report, the commission recommended taking action against VC Prof M Abdus Sobhan, pro-VC Prof Choudhury M Zakaria and others of the university over the matter. It also recommended scrapping the appointment of 34 teachers, who were recruited "relaxing university rules".
The report said the vice-chancellor, in collusion with others, also relaxed the rules to appoint his daughter and son-in-law as two of these 34 teachers at the public university.
In December, the ministry halted all kinds of appointments at RU, asking Sobhan to explain in seven working days why the appointments of his daughter and son-in-law should not be cancelled.
The education ministry, in a separate order, asked the VC to take necessary steps to remove Prof Abdul Bari from the post of university registrar for not properly assisting a UGC committee in probing allegations of irregularities at RU.
"In December, Bari resigned from his post. But since then, no visible punishment against the VC and the others has been seen," said a member of the commission.
Against this backdrop, on May 6, Abdus Sobhan appointed 137 teachers and staffers on his last day in office showing complete disregard for the ministerial embargo on making any appointments.
The UGC probe, in its investigation at RU, found evidence of 25 kinds of irregularities and corruption done by top members of the university administration.
The report said RU VC Prof Sobhan occupied a duplex of the university for 18 months showing various excuses. It recommended collecting Tk 5.61 lakh in rent from the VC for the house.
In October last year, Sobhan held a press conference where he raised questions over the neutrality of the probe body and termed it "one-sided and biased".
Sobhan said all the allegations against him were "silly, false and fabricated". He alleged that a section of people was trying to replace him and tarnish the image of the university and the government.
In its report submitted to the education ministry on February 25 this year, a UGC probe committee also recommended taking measures against Begum Rokeya University VC Prof Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah. It found irregularities in the construction of two 10-storey buildings on the university campus in Rangpur.
The prime minister inaugurated construction of the Sheikh Hasina Female Student Dormitory and Dr Wazed Research and Training Institute on the campus via a virtual conference on January 4, 2017.
The research institute's initial cost was Tk 26.87 crore, but the budget increased to Tk 61 crore. Around Tk 51.35 crore was allocated to construct the dormitory, but the cost doubled to Tk 107 crore, found the probe body.
Also mentioned in the report was that around Tk 40 lakh was spent as consultancy fees, although there was no allocation in this regard in the original development project proposal.
In a press conference in Dhaka on March 4, Kalimullah rejected all findings of the UGC report on his reported irregularities, saying it was biased and fabricated.
"I state without any hesitation that Education Minister Dipu Moni, for her personal animosity towards me, forced UGC into preparing the fabricated and biased report," he said.
The education ministry denounced Kalimullah's statement, terming it fabricated and baseless. UGC said it conducted an impartial investigation without anyone's influence while probing corruption allegations against him.
"Another UGC probe team is now investigating 45 allegations against Kalimullah. We are hoping that the probe team will submit the report to the education ministry soon," said a UGC member.
Among these 45 allegations, some notable ones are the VC's absence at campus; corruption, anomalies and violating UGC's guidelines centring workforce recruitment; discrimination in promoting officials; unauthorised occupation of several administrative posts; and irregularities in purchases.
At Noakhali Science and Technology University, a top ministry official in the secondary and higher education division said that in April 2019, the ministry prohibited recruitment of teachers and staff following allegations of irregularities and corruption against then VC Wahiduzzaman.
The source said the UGC probe team recently submitted their report on this.
"After seeing the report, I came to know he [Wahiduzzman] had bought a car at the cost of Tk 1.44 crore, although there was allocation of Tk 90 lakh for that.
"He [Wahiduzzaman] was involved in irregularities in opening new subjects. He was interested in opening other subjects than natural sciences, it was fishy," the source added.
Contacted, Wahiduzzaman said that the allegations filed against him were false and most of the signatures of the complainants were fake. He said that he bought the car at a cost of Tk 1.44 crore keeping in mind the safety of riders and longevity and that the car is now at the university.
The former VC added that he opened all subjects following due procedure and with the approval of UGC.
Asked about what steps the UGC recommends after such probes, a UGC member said that they do not usually specify the nature of steps to be taken by universities.
Generally, they recommend that those found to be responsible for such irregularities cannot be allowed to run the university any longer, the UGC member added.
In one case, however, the commission recommended a VC's removal.
In September 2019, a UGC probe committee found evidence of irregularities and corruption against Khondoker Md Nasiruddin, then vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, and recommended his withdrawal.
"We had recommended taking legal action against Khondoker Nasiruddin for his involvement in irregularities and corruption in student admission, appointment of teachers, and procurement," a member of the probe committee told The Daily Star.
Nasiruddin resigned from his post on September 30, 2019 but has so far not faced any action for the irregularities and corruption he was found guilty of by the UGC.
Despite repeated attempts, this correspondent could not reach Nasiruddin for comment.
"A LENGTHY PROCESS"
Contacted, Deputy Education Minister Mohibul Hassan Chowdhury said that they are taking steps against those found guilty of irregularities.
"If the allegations were proved, we will take actions against even those who have completed their tenures."
"We have embargoed appointments at several universities. We are taking specific actions against specific allegations. If we find financial irregularities and misappropriations, we will send the allegations to the Anti-Corruption Commission," he said.
Mohibul said when the ministry wants to take steps regarding irregularities of appointment, they need to go through "a lengthy process".
"It takes time, as we need to hear arguments from both sides," he added.
According to UGC statistics, there are 49 public universities in the country with around three lakh students, except those at National University, Islamic University, and Bangladesh Open University. Around 15,000 teachers work at these public institutions.