Corruption, nepotism mars NCA Rawalpindi

Officials allegedly misused grant given for building construction

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Samia Shah

Known as one of the most prestigious arts institutions of the country, the National College of Arts has produced a number of great artists but its Rawalpindi campus is damaging the reputation of the prominent institution.

The campus’ performance has been marred by the allegations of corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and gross incompetence.

Founded in 2005, the campus received a whopping half a billion rupees grant for the construction of the campus, but the officers concerned allegedly misused the grant, and as a result, the constructed building of the campus, according to several sources inside the NCA, was not strong enough to sustain any major natural calamity like the earthquake. It is said to be standing on weak columns, pillars and foundation. The location of college has witnessed tremors and mild earthquake in the past. Any major earth-quake is jeopardising the lives of over 200 students enrolled in the institute.

According to an official of the campus, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “The building was given a grant of Rs500 million in 2005 during Pervez Musharraf’s period for the construction, furniture and infrastructure, and of which, only Rs50 million were spent on the actual building. A committee of 10 to 15 people was set up to inspect the construction but the committee rarely visited the site. All the major works of columns, roof and pillars were carried out without any supervision.”

Sources claimed that a number of officials from different institutions expressed concern over the poor quality of construction materials but to no avail. Higher Education Commission Inspection committee’s director, Syed Naveed Hussain Shah, wrote a letter to the principle of NCA after his visit to the site on 3rd December 2015, expressing his concerns about the poor quality of work, pointing out that the roof had been built without any support or slab with the width being 9 to 10 inches. Shah wondered as to why the pillars were not constructed on the foundation, adding that the concrete was also missing between the beams and pillars, said an employee of the campus while talking to Daily Morning Mail on the condition of anonymity.

NCA former director Nadeem Umer Tarer also pointed out faults in the construction in a letter written to the principal on December 8, 2015, questioning the competence of director of architecture, who visited the site three times in total and claiming all the major construction was carried out in the absence of any technical staff. But instead of paying heed to these concerns, Tarar was dismissed from the job, the employee added.

Dr Aijaz Ahmed, a member of a committee that  supervised the work at the NCA Rawalpindi campus, wrote a memo to the principle of NCA Lahore on 25th and 31st December 2015, expressing his worries about the working conditions for the labourers at the site and pointing out the risks that the construction could pose in case of an accident. Ahmed was also fired, the employee claimed. On May 12, 2016, the students’ body wrote a letter to the HEC chairman, expressing their concerns about the poor quality of work and poor safety measures during the work. But no action was taken, said the employee.

“But all these concerns remained unaddressed,” said another employee who wished not to be named. “On November 28, 2016, a labourer named Farooq lost his life after the wall fell upon him, killing him instantly. The body of the labourer was immediately rushed to his village without a post-mortem. His family was paid a compensation of Rs100,000 to hush up the matter,” he said.

The death triggered a debate on social media about the poor quality of the construction but no action was taken. Ironically the construction that began in 2014 is still going on, forcing the students to take classes amidst this construction, several sources inside the campus claimed.

Currently, the principal’s brother-in-law, Shiraz, who was running a canteen, is looking after the girls’ hostel security. A student who recently graduated from the campus told Daily Morning Mail, “Mr Shiraz makes students pictures and videos, besides entering girls’ hostel any time he wants. He does not bother to bring female staff to enter the hostel. When students approached the principal complaining about him, they were told Shiraz has the backing of the administration. All that he is doing is with the permission of the principal.”

NCA Rawalpindi campus Director Azam Kamal’s wife and her brother are also employed at the institution, said the ex-student, adding Azam was thought to be close to the principal. Several students told Daily Morning Mail that the wife of the director does not teach properly. “She lives inside the campus, comes to class just to mark her attendance. She is more or less a ghost employee,” said a fine art student while talking to Daily Morning Mail on the condition of anonymity.

“Some teachers have been appointed soon after graduating from the institution. They harbour a grudge against their junior fellows who they victimise during the academic year. They deliberately fail students in one paper, which wastes an entire academic year of the students, making it impossible for them to secure scholarships,” a female student, who wished to be unnamed, told Daily Morning Mail.

Corrupt practices are also said to be common on the campus. For instance, in January 2018, the NCA Rawalpindi was granted 24 computers from NCA Lahore, but the bill was made for 48 computers. The storekeeper Zafar Husain lodged a written complaint pointing out only 24 computers were bought even then the bill was cleared, said a senior student of the campus while talking to Daily Morning Mail on the condition of anonymity.