Ministry asks NAB to probe corruption in Rs3b education project

The News

ISLAMABAD: In a rare occurrence, the ministry of federal education has asked the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe a mega corruption scam in an RS3 billion project of the federal government meant to provide basic education to about half a million students of lowest income segment of society.
According to a letter signed by the Secretary Federal Education Akbar Hussain Durrani, a copy of which is available with The News, the Ministry has asked the accountability watchdog to investigate two officers of the Basic Education Community Schools Programme (BECS) who have been found involved in corruption by the ministry’s own inquiries. According to ministry sources these students could not be provided free books for last one and half year despite billions spent on the project.
The letter mention embezzlement of Rs115.839 million by the two suspended BECS officer but the inquiry report and audit reports pointed out utilization of over Rs800 million by one of the accused official without financial authority. All purchases were made by the said contractual officer of grade 18 without tender in violation of PPRA rules. BECS is a project of the ministry currently running 12,304 one-teacher school across the country with enrollment of 493,972 students from backward areas. This year the department demanded a budget of RS 3.3 billion from the federal government under a new PC-1 for next two years.
NAB is already investigating at least three corruption scams in BECS. Such is the level of corruption in the department that federal audit has pointed out that one finger print scanner which costs about Rs150,000 was bought by BECS officials for RS2.1 million. Even the Director General of BECS told The News that he was recently given a transport bill of Rs2.5 million but the job was actually done for less than RS0.5 million. “Recently various complaints were received on account of embezzlement/corruption/misconduct of Mr Ghulam Nabi Sial, Deputy Director (BECS) Sindh and Mir Hazar Lakhan, ex-Assistant Director (Finance) Sindh. In order to probe the matter two separate inquiries were conducted,” says the letter dated 11th June and signed by ex-Secretary Akbar Durrani who has recently been posted to Punjab by caretaker government. “The inquiry officers have found both of the above officers involved in grave financial irregularities and misconduct. On the recommendations of inquiry committee, the accused officers have been placed under suspension. The matter is being referred to NAB for further investigation of embezzlement for Rs115.839 million on account of embezzlement of salaries and training component of teachers; procurement of books and others,” says the letter. Interestingly the Director General of BECS Muhammad Abbas Khan tried to stop ministry from sending the case to NAB and asked the ministry to dismiss its own inquiry report.
“Referring the case to NAB without any proof and cogent evidence is invitation for annihilation of BECS,” said a BECS letter approved by DG asking the ministry to treat the inquiry that established corruption in BECS as “null and void”. When contacted, Abbas admitted that he was opposed to ministry sending the case to NAB.
“They have overplayed corruption case. I know the officers did violate rules but our officer Taninda Qamar’s inquiry against them was flawed,” he said adding that the accused will challenge the ministry’s move to involve NAB in higher courts. However Abbas admitted rampant corruption in BECS. He also admitted that the about half a million student of BECS remained without books for last one and half year but claimed that BECS have now started to supply books to these students. He also admitted that there are hundreds of ghost schools that he caught during last six month but refused to call them ghost schools instead terming them dysfunctional schools. “I have personally found about 300 to 400 dysfunctional schools under BECS during last six months,” he said. He claimed he is fighting this corruption in the department.
Earlier, a special audit directed by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had revealed that BECS had been running 2350 ghost schools which caused Rs225 million annual losses for several years. These ghost one-teacher one-room community schools did not only cause losses to the tune of billions but also deprived thousands of poor students of their basic right but those responsible for the loss have not be held accountable so far after passage of several years. In just one example of how the department is operating in far flung areas of the country, National Accountability Bureau Balochistan have learnt that a single BECS official Ghaffar Shah had been pocketing salaries of 31 ghost schools for more than one year between July 2010 to October 2011.
The special audit revealed that about 2007 ghost schools being operated by the Ministry under BECS have been confirmed as fake through third-party audits in March 2012 but so far no action has been taken against those responsible and no details were shared with the fresh team of Directorate General Audit which compiled the fresh report this month.
No action was taken to even ascertain how the department officials managed to prepare thousands of fake ID cards which is also a major breach of national security. Another batch of 349 ghost schools was identified in 2012 in Punjab, KPK, Sindh, Balochistan, Fata and Gilgit Baltistan (GB). The fresh audit report says that the current management of BECS did not provide any record on what action has been taken on 2007 ghost schools. “The audit team sought record related to Nadra verification which provided these schools as ghost schools. But no record was provided for verification.” the report says. In the absence of record, audit could not ascertain the exact number of cases in which the CNIC of school teachers were not verified by NADRA leading to closure of schools.

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