LAHORE – The Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) has admitted inclusion of a misleading clause in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the Punjab government and the Cuyahoga County Coroner to facilitate the visa process of 32 forensic scientists sent for training to the United States, TheNation has learnt.

Responding to one of many audit paras on why forensic scientists were not sent for training to Cleveland State University as per the agreement with the Cuyahoga County Coroner, PFSA officials gave an interesting justification: “The particular clause was added only to ease the difficult process of obtaining US visa for the forensic scientists.”

It seems that like common people intending to go to the US on student visa, the government too feared rejection of applications of 32 forensic scientists and opted to cheat the US immigration by adding a misleading clause that they would be trained at CSU at higher tuition fee and not at crime laboratories at lower fee. By adding the clause, the cash-strapped provincial government paid hundreds of thousands of additional dollars that could have been saved by sharing the true picture in visa applications.

The audit team, however, did not agree with the lame excuse and insisted that the PFAS management had violated the MoU on many counts, including training period of the forensic scientists. Also, the 32 scientists obtained preliminary certification in various disciplines of forensic from different crime laboratories instead of getting a specialised training from CSU as per the MoU.

In addition to paying hefty stipends to the visiting scientists, the Punjab government paid $80,000 to the Cuyahoga County Coroner as tuition fee for the 32 scientists ($25,000 each), though none of them received training at CSU. Information available at Cuyahoga County Coroner’s website revealed that the course cost (polygraph training) was only $4,750 per trainee but the institution was paid $25,000 per trainee.

Moreover, scientists were not given certificates after the training. As such, almost all returned with preliminary training and that too without getting evidence in the shape of certificates.

The level of training is so low that even institutions in Pakistan are unwilling to recognise it. One of the scientists referred his case to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) for getting credit in the field of forensic pathology but failed to get the desired response.

The PMDC made it clear to the US-trained pathologist that “it does not serve the purpose of training in the field of forensic pathology and is just an observer ship certificate’. As such, it was not a specilisation but just a preliminary training from an unrecognised institution.

The audit team insisted that any training without certificate could not be entertained and additional amount paid on account of fee and stipend needed to be recovered. In reply to an audit para, the PFSA revealed that the Cuyahoga County Coroner was selected on the recommendation of forensic consultant Dr Muhammad Ashraf Tahir. Interestingly, Dr Tahir was executive director of the Cuyahoga County Coroner at the time.

The agency further stated that the recommendation of the consultant was endorsed by the Project Steering Committee and later approved by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Dr Tahir is now serving as the PFSA director general at a lucrative package of Rs1.1 million per month. He joined on July 4, 2011, when he was still with the Cuyahoga County Coroner. The county served notice on Dr Tahir for doing two jobs, forcing him to resign from the job in the US.

The audit team pointed out that state-of-the-art education facilities in various disciplines of forensic were locally available, but the Punjab government opted for training of scientists from the US at an exorbitant tuition fee. For example, DNA training is locally available at the Punjab University’s Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB), which is equipped with latest and sophisticated equipment.

Giving justification for this, the PFSA contended that training facilities at the CEMB were deficient and not up to the mark. “The CEMB has neither trained faculty nor latest equipment. PFSA scientists have been trained in crime labs on latest equipment that was locally unavailable,” they claimed.

The audit team, however, did not agree with the arguments, saying the PFSA should submit evidence of non-availability of up-to-the-mark training facilities at the CEMB. It also insisted on recovering the additional amount paid to the Cuyahoga County Coroner.