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  • Pakistan begins revamp of science institute


[KARACHI] The Pakistani government has appointed new advisors to oversee its state-run Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), which is facing accusations of mismanagement by the scientific community and the press.

The country's ministry of science and technology announced the appointments in late May.

PCSIR, the largest network of government-run labs in the country, comprises 17 laboratories spread across Hyderabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta, including four Pak Swiss training centres; an industrial electronics institute; centres for metal, precious and semi-precious stones; centres for fuel and leather research; and a scientific information center (SIC).

Muqarrab Mukhtar, public relations officer to the minister of science and technology, told SciDev.Net the appointments will boost research and good governance in the council, which is facing financial and management problems.

But former head of the PCSIR complex in Karachi, Mirza Arshad Ali Baig, told SciDev.Net: "PSCIR doesn't need advisors — it needs infrastructure, equipment and libraries. Pakistan's Higher Education Commission (HEC) [who support PCSIR's laboratories and libraries] have done very little for PSCIR."

"Currently PSCIR's scientists are only doing analytical research and production, based on basic research done in the 80s and 90s," he said.

A senior PCSIR officer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the relationship between the PCSIR chairman and the new advisors — and what these advisors will specifically do — is not clear, which "may deepen the crises [of mismanagement, lack of research and poor governance] rather than supporting infrastructure."

One of the charges against PCSIR is its arbitrary appointment of institute directors whose field of specialisation may not complement the institute's research focus. For example, observes Azmat Ali Khan, former head of PCSIR's SIC, the current head of its fuel research centre is a food and marine scientist, while the head of the leather research centre is a specialist in fungal toxins.

"There needs to be a rigorous scrutiny of PCSIR by a team of international experts which would be empowered to make a full financial and technical audit. As a heavily bureaucratised organisation, PCSIR lacks transparency and so is able to hide its inefficiency under layer after layer of officialdom," says Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor and head of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

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