ISLAMABAD: The Rs8 billion Basic Education Community Schools (BECS) project has not only produced the reported 8,000 ghost schools but is also full of tales of unique but unchecked corruption, harassment of lady officials, withdrawal of government funds for personal use, payment of salaries to ghost teachers and a lot more.
Background interviews and official documents reveal that former education minister and presently Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali; former managing director of the National Education Foundation (NEF) and a controversial political appointee of the Gilani’s regime Kamran Zafar, ex-director administration Syed Waqar Gilani and many more have an alleged role in the illegal appointments, corruption and misuse of authority.
The authorities have now started thinking of carrying out different independent inquiries to ascertain the exact number of ghost schools but the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), despite having been formally requested by the authorities to probe the matter and arrest the corrupt, is sitting idle as this case of corruption and fraud involves favourites of the present regime.
The sorry tale of the BECS project is a perfect reflection of the overall state of governance in Pakistan where corruption and misrule are the order of the day, there is no merit, corrupt elements have no fear of being held accountable and it is a free for all situation at the cost of public money.
According to the NEF spokesman, the authorities have decided to carry out third party validation of the 13,000 BECS schools besides cross checking their existence from the executive district officers through provincial governments to ascertain the exact number of such non-existent schools.
The spokesman disclosed that almost 2,000 ghost schools were recently closed when the authorities got it confirmed from Nadra that the given identity cards of teachers of these schools were fake. There is no idea for how long these thousands of fake teachers have been paid from the public kitty in the name of education for the poor. Several hundred schools have been found with zero attendance whereas some cases have come up where the identity cards of different people were used to draw salaries as teachers but without any knowledge and information of the concerned persons, whose identity cards were used.
Why the BECS should not be presenting such a dirty picture when its minister in-charge Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali is alleged to have a role in the illegal appointment of 200 teachers in the Punjab without any advertisement and in disregard to the PC-I of the project.
A used Land Cruiser was also bought for the minister from the BECS funds despite the fact that under the government policy, no second hand car could be purchased.
Sardar Assef, when approached, said that the appointments were made by the then managing director, who had approached him with the request that new appointees were required to address the issue of ghost schools.
Assef said that MD Kamran Zafar was a political appointee of former prime minister Gilani. Regarding the second-hand Land Cruiser purchased for him, he said the vehicle was purchased by the managing director but admitted that he occasionally used it.
About Kamran Zafar, the-then Project Director Brig (retd) Siraj Uddin wrote to the federal government that the political appointee had allegedly indulged in various kinds of corruption and corrupt practices for the satisfaction of his personal greed and lust. The brigadier in the same note even charged Zafar with involvement in alleged harassment of lady employees.
The NEF spokesman confirmed that there were various complaints against the former managing director of harassing lady employees.
What is, however, interesting to note is that an audit report and a follow up inquiry confirmed Kamran Zafar had drawn millions of rupees from the Social Action Programme (SAP) Endowment Fund without an authority. “This has been done without the information of signatories, which indicates that the signatories have been changed fraudulently in connivance with the bank manager without information to the ministry and the said amount has been withdrawn unauthorisedly.”
“According to the statement given by the concerned bank authorities, it has been done by the ex-MD NEF Mr Kamran Zafar and Ms Yasmin Ali, Deputy Director (BECS). Mr Kamran has acknowledged in his note that he withdrew his salary from this account.”
When the inquiry officer confronted Kamran Zafar, the former MD NEF said: “No fraud or mischief has taken place in the withdrawals. They were perfectly legitimate and not a penny was drawn in excess of what I and my colleagues were entitled to....”
Instead, he attacked the project director with the statement: “Wanton apathy shown by the ministry in dealing with a corrupt and self styled project director is unprecedented and inexplicable....” He added that he had discharged his duties honestly and diligently and had committed no irregularities whatsoever.
“Drawing salary or emolument is not a criminal offence and by any stretch of imagination cannot be termed as illegal nor fraudulent. I have simply committed no wrong,” Kamran Zafar wrote to the authorities in his response. He, however, could not be approached by The News despite efforts.
A source close to him rejected all the allegations including that of harassing lady employees, levelled against Zafar. The source insisted that he was being victimised and falsely involved in wrong cases.
Things have been in such a bad shape in the BECS project that its Gilgit Director Yasmin Ali admitted to have withdrawn Rs8.5 million, which was meant for the education of underprivileged children, in cash and given all this amount (in different instalments) to the-then MD Kamran Zafar and the-then Director Administration Waqar Gilani.
In her statement, Yasmin said that Zafar and Gilani used to demand cash from her and she would always respond positively. Later when probed, Yasmin returned almost Rs5 million but the remaining amount is yet to be recovered.
The-then Project Director Brig (retd) Siraj Uddin surprised many by transferring the amount of Rs794 million from the Assignment Account and placing it in a National Bank of Pakistan account on June 30, 2011 apparently to stop the funds from lapsing.
According to an official document: “This action was highly objected to by the Finance Division. Subsequently, Finance Division convened a meeting on 27th July 2011 in which decisions were made regarding transparency of the disbursement procedures of honorarium to teachers. However, it was also decided that the matter regarding withdrawal of funds from Assignment Accounts to Private Account will be separately dealt with. Later, this matter was not processed due to the ongoing turmoil in the project.”
Syed Waqar Gilani has also been reflected badly in the official documents for unauthorised withdrawal of funds and illegal appointments, besides having received cash from Yasmin Ali.
According to sources, these tales of corruption, misuse of authority and wastage of public money are like a tip of the iceberg but despite all this, the NAB is least interested in probing the case.
Each and every file of the project speaks of loot, plunder and butchering of merit. Perhaps, frustrated with the situation, a key official of the NEF noted on a file about the ghost schools: “The above figures are enough to show as to how the project is being ditched by officer/officials and also explains reasons of failure to achieve the desired results. There are not only misreporting facts but are running ghost schools to fill their own pockets.”